Mental-health care group focuses on access |

Mental-health care group focuses on access

Lauren Glendenning
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Just a couple of years ago, Colorado West Regional Mental Health was $10 million in debt and on the verge of bankruptcy.

Now the local mental health care operation, which has locations in 10 Western Slope counties, is thriving. Sharon Raggio, Colorado West’s chief executive officer who came on board in March 2008, said she’s extremely proud of where the organization is today.

“We’ve made significant changes,” Raggio said.

Once the debt was cleared, Raggio said the organization has really focused on its operations and the restructuring has paid off.

Raggio said staff has worked hard to remove access barriers – they wanted to make sure it’s as easy as possible for people in the community to access care.

People can now walk into any of the 13 outpatient offices throughout 10 counties – with two offices in Eagle County – and be seen by a mental health care professional or doctor the same day.

“Before, it could take up to two weeks to get an appointment and up to four weeks before you could start treatment,” Raggio said. “If someone calls to make a mental health appointment, typically they need help now.”

That improved access has resulted in 22 percent more people using Colorado West’s services, Raggio said – services that were once lacking but now meet or exceed national standards.

Services include individual and family counseling, a complete drug and alcohol program, an intensive outpatient program, behavior therapy, psychiatry services, court-ordered programs and more. Colorado West also accepts people from all income levels, with or without insurance.

Treatment works, Raggio said, which is why it’s important to make sure Colorado West staff members are engaging their patients into treatment.

Treatment is about making lifestyle changes, and it’s just as effective for mental health and substance abuse as it is for any other chronic condition, she said.

Susan Rodger, the program coordinator for Colorado West in Eagle County, said mental health often takes a back seat to some of the other services or issues in many communities, which makes fundraising difficult.

In fiscal year 2010, Raggio said the organization provided $7.3 million in free care to the communities it serves – that’s almost half of the services provided by Colorado West.

“We are really meeting the community’s needs, but it’s challenging,” Raggio said.

Rodger said she’d like to put together a fundraising group of interested community members to help meet the organization’s local needs by hosting a couple of fundraising events each year.

“We kind of one of the less glamorous, and certainly one of the poorest, nonprofits in Eagle County,” Rodger said.

Colorado West as a whole is living up to its vision, which is “to create access to quality mental health and substance abuse services enhancing recovery and resilience in our communities.”

“We’ve really upped our quality game and upped our access,” Raggio said. “We’re here, we’re open, we’re different. Treatment works and we’re here to serve.”

Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or

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