Mental health counselors headed to Eagle River Valley and Roaring Fork Valley schools
EAGLE — When local kids head back to their classrooms this fall, a new mental health support system is being mobilized on their behalf.
On Tuesday, Aug. 21, the Eagle County commissioners allocated $400,000 from the 1A marijuana tax proposals that passed last fall to fund four new school-based counselors — three for the buildings in the Eagle River Valley and one for the Roaring Fork Valley School District. The proposal marks the first recommendation from the county’s Mental Health Advisory Committee.
In presenting the proposal, Eagle County Health Promotion Coordinator Mandy Ivanov noted it received the unanimous support of the mental health committee members. She noted during every meeting of the advisory committee and the Total Health Alliance — a local group that is open to anyone interested in improving the mental health system in Eagle County — school-based counselors were identified as a top priority. What’s more, she noted that officials with MindSprings Health, Vail Health, Eagle County Health Services District and Mountain Family Health Centers also support the effort.
As for the schools themselves, when school counselors were surveyed about what resources are needed, they overwhelmingly identified “community mental health.”
Ivanov pointed to the recently released Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, which showed that nearly one-third of local middle and high school students report feeling seriously depressed. Those results have trended upward over the past four years.
“We wanted to address this as soon as possible,” Ivanov said.
She added that officials from Eagle County Schools, St. Clare of Assisi, Stone Creek Charter School, Vail Christian Academy, Vail Christian High School, Vail Mountain School, Basalt High School and Roaring Fork School District recently gathered to discuss the mental health needs of local kids.
Ivanov noted that at that meeting, the school-based counselors proposal was formulated. The idea is to provide all kids with access to professional counseling, regardless of where they attend classes.
In February, 2018 the death by suicide by a local teen stunned the Eagle Valley community. Read how a Colorado survey reinforces need for youth mental health services in Eagle County.
“Sometimes people think people in our valley and the Roaring Fork Valley have it made,” said Michael Holton, vice president of marketing and communications for Vail Health.
“But every day, local kids are having adverse childhood experiences, and to help out adults, we first have to first help out our kids.”
Holton said providing school-based mental health counselors is a wise investment for 1A money. Rob Stein, superintendent of Roaring Fork School District, echoed that assertion.
Stein noted that during the fall of the 2016-17 school year, Glenwood Springs High School reported nine cases of student mental health holds. The school then brought a mental health counselor on board and in the spring semester reported only one mental health hold case.
As local schools institute the counseling program, the mental health committee has proposed a sliding funding formula. This year, the county’s mental health marijuana tax revenues would provide $320,000 — $400,000 for Eagle River Valley schools and $80,000 for Roaring Fork Valley schools. That number will decrease by $100,000 for the next two years, and then it will drop to an estimated $120,000 — $140,000 total for Eagle River Valley schools and $20,000 for Roaring Fork Valley schools — in year four.
In approving the $400,000 expenditure from the county’s Mental Health Fund, commissioners heard from committee members and other partners who indicated the need school-based counselors.
On the topic of funding, this year the county has allocated an additional $500,000 for mental health needs with the money coming from the public health reserve fund. The 1A measure has collected approximately $197,000. That means there is roughly $700,000 currently available for mental health initiatives.
Eagle County Public Health Director Chris Lindley said because the funding mechanism is new, the county is being conservative with its program funding estimates.
“School-based mental health counselors was a huge gap in the system,” Commissioner Jill Ryan said. She urged the mental health committee to strategically identify other needs that can be shored up with county funding.
“I look at 1A funding as anchor funding,” Ryan said.
Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney praised the various local agencies that are working to help address the county’s mental health needs. She noted it is a fallacy to think that the mental health situation in Eagle County is a new crisis. Rather, McQueeney said it is an old problem that people are finally discussing.
“This community is talking about mental health everywhere you go,” Lindley agreed. “This is a community issue, a community problem, and we need a community solution.”
While policymakers are celebrating a big drop in Colorado’s individual health insurance prices for 2020, they’re also scrambling to combat the sharp decline in the number of carriers in rural parts of the state where 22 of 64 counties have just one option on the Obamacare marketplace.