The Vail Mind Center’s multidisciplinary approach provides localized care for kids
Early intervention can be a key success factor in treating childhood behavioral issues
In addition to the challenges presented by the pandemic, parents and their families also dealt with limited access to daycare, preschools and even primary care. The result has been a lot more hands-on time with their kids and more opportunities to notice behaviors that might be the early signs of developmental issues.
Paul Graf, Founder and CEO of the Vail Mind Center, a comprehensive therapy provider based in Edwards – offering Speech, Occupational, Behavior, Art Therapy, Diagnosing and Counseling – said that recognizing those issues and taking steps for early intervention can be critical in helping to prevent behavioral problems in the teen years and beyond.
“Parents often see lots of frustration and challenging behaviors in their young kids, which frequently indicates that the kids have needs which should be addressed,” he said. “And the sooner a child with a special need can be helped, the better the long-term outcomes.”
A personal mission
Graf launched the Vail Mind Center in 2019 after his own family found it impossible to get the care they needed here in Eagle County. Knowing his family was not alone in their needs for pediatric behavioral and mental health services, he decided to take on the mission of bringing them to the community.
“Getting a diagnosis was hard enough in itself. After being on a waitlist for many months, or even a year if you have Medicaid, most families have to drive down to the Front Range to get their children tested,” he said. “Once they receive a diagnosis, getting the services needed is still practically impossible.”
Now, with 17 therapists on staff including four Psychologists, wait times for a testing appointment at the Vail Mind Center are approximately six weeks.
“We have three kids, and the oldest suffered a range of issues, but after finally getting a diagnosis and seeking services, our eyes were opened to the state of pediatric services in Eagle County and beyond,” Graf said.
That led the Internet and technology startups entrepreneur to acquire a large space in Edwards and build a sensory gym with climbing wall, swings, individual treatment rooms, plus a large Art Therapy and social groups space. That created a fun environment for kids ages 0-21 to come to for therapy, all within a collaborative care model.
For other mountain town parents coping with limited access to care, Vail Mind Center has become an important resource, with over 70 children currently taking part in more than 100 sessions per week. Graf even has clients who come all the way from Fairplay to take part in local services.
Addressing needs early and collaborating
With teen depression and psychiatric issues an ever more pressing problem, especially with the disruption and social isolation of the pandemic, Graf said the Vail Mind Center can play an important role in spotting needs and offering early treatment to help kids have a more happy and healthy early childhood.
“When issues go untreated, they can have compounding effects. Too many of the teens and young adults currently struggling with anxiety, depression and substance abuse might have been able to avoid the extremes they are experiencing had their early childhood issues been appropriately addressed.”
The center often receives referrals from pediatricians, after wellness checks identify kids who are not reaching developmental milestones – the ability to talk, walk or other basic skills. Preschool screenings also can identify a child that may need services. Graf said many parents also contact the center directly and arrange an evaluation with staff, who are able to offer a diagnosis and start on therapeutic work.
The Vail Mind Center’s collaborative care model means kids can receive more than just a single mode of therapy during their visits, either in the center, at home or via telehealth sessions.
“We do a lot of in-home sessions, where we do applied behavioral analysis – a lot of behavior happens at home, and we can help mitigate that with a therapist there in person. Kids are able to have multiple services during the same visit, allowing therapists to co-treat or share the best evidence-based treatments from their respective disciplines.”
Adaptable service model
As COVID led to restrictions on in-person services for all but the most severe cases, Graf said the Vail Mind Center discovered that telehealth sessions can often be just as effective for most kids.
“We came out of the whole experience last spring recognizing the powers of telehealth, which sort of went against conventional wisdom,” he said. “But we found we were able to work as or more effectively with many kids via telehealth sessions – most kids flourished. We also got more parental engagement, as parents actively participated and learned techniques they could deliver at home. Parental training is still key, either in the clinic or on Zoom.” Those telehealth sessions have been so successful that Graf has just launched Healthy Young Minds, an entirely online therapeutic service which provides similar therapy to kids across the country, using a mixture of local and national therapists.