Vail One Mind program helps response to mental health cases
By the numbers
17: Eagle County suicides in 2017.
360 percent: Four-year increase in emergency room visits 2014 — 2018
118 percent: Increase in calls to 911 for reported suicide attempts, 2017 — 2018.
23 percent: Local middle school students who seriously considered suicide, 2017.
Source: Information compiled by the Eagle County Human Services Department.
VAIL — Police are often the first to respond to people in crisis. Vail’s police department is working to make sure those first responders can provide as much help as possible.
The Vail Police Department is participating in the One Mind program, which was developed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger has long been associated with that group.
According to the organization’s website, One Mind focuses on “uniting local communities, public safety organizations and mental health organizations so that the three become ‘of one mind.’”
Henninger said it has only been recently that there have been enough partners able to help with those goals. Vail police are working with the recently-created Eagle County Hope Center.
Henninger said longtime provider Mind Springs Health — which serves much of the Western Slope — simply hasn’t had the resources in Eagle County to provide the level of services needed for the One Mind program to be effective.
A growing need
The One Mind program works to build a model that involves police and medical first responders. And the need for services has been climbing, and climbing rapidly.
During a recent presentation to the Vail Town Council, Eagle County Human Services Department Director Chris Lindley laid out some of those numbers.
The county in just the past four years has seen a 360 percent increase in emergency room visits for anxiety or depression. There has been a similar increase in emergency room visits for alcohol or drug intoxication.
The number of suicides in the county has also roughly tripled, going from six in 2016 — a longtime county average — to 16 in 2017 and 17 in 2018.
Lindley said there has also been an increase since 2011 in the number of middle schoolers who have made suicide plans. That number was 15 percent in 2017, compared to 5 percent in 2011.
Vail Town Council member Jenn Bruno noted during the meeting that her two sons are both in middle school.
“I believe those numbers,” she said.
Lindley then ran through some of the efforts to improve mental health care in the county, starting with a sales tax on marijuana sales passed in 2017.
While that tax by itself won’t generate enough to cover all the county’s needs — Lindley’s estimates show more than $200 million in need over the next decade — Lindley said voter approval of the tax helped jump start the local effort.
Work is coming along to create facilities, including a 24-hour walk-in clinic.
But the needs are great. Lindley said Eagle County would need another 66 mental health professionals just to get the area to the state per-capita average.
One Mind, one community
Vail’s One Mind is another attempt to help as much as possible.
Henninger said One Mind is an effort to “have good policies in place.”
The program aims to train everyone working for Vail’s police department, from clerks to dispatchers to street officers.
The training is extensive — the 40-hour course includes both classroom work and role-playing exercises. The role-playing portion of the course includes actors trained to represent people in crisis.
Henninger said most of the department has taken the training. The entire staff may be trained by the end of this year, barring staff turnover.
The program is paid for with the department’s regular training funds.
Henninger said the One Mind training is useful for cases beyond those in a mental health crisis.
The “de-escalation” techniques can help with risk protection orders and other cases, he added.
Henninger said the reasons aren’t well known for the increases in mental health cases. But the need is there, for money and resources.
“Why don’t we have something similar to Pink Vail for mental health?” Lindley asked. “Wouldn’t it be nice to do that for mental health as well?”