Vail Health celebrates opening of the Wiegers Mental Health Clinic in Edwards
The outpatient behavioral health clinic is part of Eagle Valley Behavioral Health’s vision of creating affordable and equitable access to behavioral health in the community
On Wednesday, Feb. 22, Vail Health and Eagle Valley Behavioral Health celebrated the opening of its newest facility, the Wiegers Mental Health Clinic in Edwards.
This outpatient behavioral health clinic opened to patients Jan. 11 and will offer a variety of services and treatments.
“It’s going to be life-changing for so much of the community,” said Casey Wolfington, Eagle Valley Behavioral Health’s senior director of community behavioral health.
Already, the center has been busy every day in the month it’s been open, seeing over 1,300 patients, according to Chris Lindley, the executive director of Eagle Valley Behavioral Health and chief population health officer at Vail Health.
This volume is already a dramatic increase for Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, representing the highest number of behavioral health visits it has seen ever.
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“I know today that when families are searching for the care they need for their loved ones, or (when) they’re looking for care for themselves, they’ll find it in this community,” Lindley said. “And we are far from done.”
Room to grow
The clinic will be home to a number of the provider’s outpatient services and treatments. This includes existing services such as its child and adolescent psychiatrists, case managers, a pain and substance specialist who is focused on addiction psychiatry and medically assisted treatment for substance use issues, and other providers.
However, the center is also allowing Eagle Valley Behavioral Health to expand into new specialty services, Wolfington said.
“Individuals that are often seeking this type of specialty care have sought therapy, they’ve sought traditional psychiatry, they’ve worked on family therapy, couples therapy, they’ve done everything in their power and they just feel like they are not getting the relief that they want,” she said. “These services are really able to support individuals when they feel like they’ve tried other options and weren’t able to be successful — it’s huge for our community.”
These new treatments include transcranial magnetic stimulation, a form of brain stimulation expected to go live in March, and ketamine treatment, a psychedelic intervention expected to go live in June. Both, as Wolfington mentioned, are designed to provide new treatment options for individuals who have been resistant to other treatments.
The clinic will also provide space for group and intensive outpatient programs, which are designed to prevent patients from escalating to the point of hospitalization, Wolfington said. These groups will be offered for both adults and adolescents.
Dr. Paige Baker-Braxton, the director of outpatient behavioral health services at Vail Health, said patients will get education on skills building, mindfulness, meditation, movement, nutrition and cognitive behavioral therapy, all in a group setting. The groups will meet three to four times a week, with each session lasting three hours.
While these services are critical to the community, the aesthetic of the clinic itself is also designed to continue breaking down the stigmas around this type of outpatient care.
“The thoughtfulness around everything in the clinic, from the curated artwork to the way it’s laid out, is intended to create a space of safety and destigmatization that doesn’t feel like a cold clinical space, it feels like a comfortable space,” Baker-Braxton said. “There’s a lack of stigma, and when they walk in here patients know there’s safety.”
While Eagle Valley Behavioral Health has grown significantly since its inception three years ago to include 55 individuals — among them 12 therapists (including pre- and post-doctoral interns) and four psychiatric medical providers — it is still hiring providers to continue growing and meeting community needs.
Lindley reported that all of its providers are currently full.
“The demand is there, and as soon as we bring on more providers, I’m sure they will also be full because people are really seeking these services,” he said.
Just this week, Baker-Braxton said it sent out three job offers, two of which were accepted. The accepted offers include an additional child psychiatrist as well as a bilingual provider who will serve children as young as 3 years old in the community.
“The way behavioral health works is when we work together as a team, we learn from each other and we support each other. The opening of this building has improved our team morale exponentially and has enabled us to recruit some really incredible talent,” Baker-Braxton said. “I think we’re on a downhill trajectory for staffing. We’re going to be fighting people off to work here.”
This is in stark contrast to many other health care providers today, and in fact; Lindley reported that Eagle Valley Behavioral Health hasn’t had a single person from its team leave in the past year and a half.
Visions for the future
The Wiegers clinic is located at the Edwards Community Health Campus, which currently houses all of Vail Health’s behavioral health providers as well as community partners like My Future Pathways, The Community Market, MIRA Bus and United Way. The campus will also be the future site of its inpatient behavioral health clinic, The Precourt Healing Center, which is expected to open in Spring 2025.
Lindley referred to the Wiegers Clinic and Precourt Center as “sisters,” representing a collaborative and truly integrated vision for the future.
“The fact that this is a community-wide campus that spans the entire spectrum is huge for our providers,” Wolfington said. “Our providers want to be assured that if they have a patient that needs hospitalization, that there’s going to be a local place for them to receive that care, and that they will be able to have feedback in the type of care that they need to receive and the type of treatment.”
It will also help create positive outcomes for patients as well.
“Typically inpatient is incredibly short stints that focus on safety and stabilization and you don’t really get into the relationship piece where you’re building on the treatment because people usually go back to their community or go to a different disjointed provider,” Wolfington said. “If we can start that therapeutic approach inpatient and then continue it to outpatient or vice versa, why have that person start the story from scratch? Why not start with the provider that they already know and trust?”
Already, Vail Health has been building this type of integration across its campuses and specialties with its integrated behavioral health program. The program places a behavioral health provider in every clinic so that all providers — from pediatricians to endocrinologists to primary care — can give their patients access to behavioral health on the same day.
“That has bridged the services,” Baker-Braxton said. “That’s one reason why we’re seeing so many patients, is we’re catching all of these patients that had stigmatization around mental health, didn’t know how to access it, thought they couldn’t afford it. Integrated care teaches them about their options, does an assessment, and gets them connected.”
In the last 11 months, Baker-Braxton said this has led to saving 43 patients from suicide and from having to be placed in an inpatient facility by providing access that same day to a “behavioral health provider and connecting them to ongoing care.”
In the past three years, Eagle Valley Behavioral Health has created a new model for this type of community care, Lindley said.
“We’re not following a model, we’re building it as we go,” he said.
And, as it looks ahead, only more growth is ahead.
“We are only three years into this, and now that we have infrastructure in place and providers in place and the leadership team in place, the next three years will be a much farther jump than we’ve done the first three years,” Lindley said. “Everything’s starting to click now, a lot of things are coming together. We’re not done. These plans that (we) have really changed the entire field of behavioral health.”
Built by and for the community
The clinic is named in recognition of a donation from the George and Betsy Wiegers Family Foundation. At Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, multiple generations of the Wiegers family were in attendance to celebrate the occasion, which the family has pushed since the ideation of Eagle Valley Behavioral Health.
George and Betsy have a long history of philanthropy in Colorado and in the Vail Valley — supporting the Vail Valley Foundation, Eagle County Land Trust and more.
However, George Wiegers’ journey into supporting mental health starts with his family. His mother was a bipolar depression patient in New York State in the 1930s and 1940s. Back then, there were mental institutions and hospitals to treat these patients. However, Wiegers said his family “came to understand the problems pretty early.”
“When I got lucky and made a little money on Wall Street, I said, ‘Maybe I can help out,’” Wiegers said.
His first opportunity came through a doctor in Detroit who had a vision to build a national network of centers connected to major medical schools, which were designed to treat depression.
“That opened the door to this focus on mental health rather than just medical care generally,” Wiegers said.
From there, Wiegers helped support the buildout and vision for the Johnson Depression Center at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
“It was just a natural evolution,” he said. “The idea was that there should be a place for people to go where they can get care and not have to stand in line waiting for a psychiatrist or whatever provider they could find. The depression center provided a public entryway for the disease rather than availability only by professional jurisdiction.”
Years later, he became involved with Vail Health and its vision to build Eagle Valley Behavioral Health. On Wednesday, Lindley said Wiegers was the first person to donate when the organization began pursuing the marijuana tax, which would become the funding foundation to create Eagle Valley Behavioral Health. The family has also contributed to Olivia’s Fund, the organization’s scholarship program.
And as Jay Precourt — who alongside his daughter Amanda Precourt are the benefactors of the neighboring inpatient facility — and George Wiegers sat side by side on Wednesday, Lindley referred to their visions and generosity as a “legacy they’re creating for all of us.”
Wiegers said on Wednesday that the effort to get to where Eagle Valley Behavioral Health is has been a community-driven program.
“You brought the community into the program, not only the care but also the planning and development of it. That of course is the difference,” he said. “I’m in love with what I see and I’m delighted to be part of it.”
In addition to being built by and for the local community, Baker-Braxton added that Eagle Valley Behavioral Health is also comprised of community members.
“The way in which we react as a community of providers changes the degree of care because it’s our community, it’s our state, it’s our health of our friends, of our family, of our coworkers, and it’s a very different environment,” she said.
It’s a model that not only allows the provider to be flexible and evolve with community needs but also one that it hopes will impact change beyond the valley.
“The data that will come out of here and the outcomes that will be produced will be shared as far as we can share them, hopefully driving change way outside of this community,” Lindley said. “We have a long trajectory, but our failure would be if we just solved the problem for this community. Our true success is taking these lessons and these fights as far as we can so everybody can benefit going forward.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that the Wiegers Mental Health Clinic will offer new specialty services that are not available anywhere in the region. The services include transcranial magnetic stimulation, a form of brain stimulation, and ketamine-assisted treatment. All Points North, a private facility located in Cordillera that offers outpatient mental health services, has been offering transcranial magnetic stimulation since March 2021 and also offers ketamine-assisted healing and therapy.