Garfield County commissioners were among the first on the Western Slope to support a major expansion of a Grand Junction psychiatric hospital, agreeing to contribute $50,000 to West Springs Hospital.

West Springs Hospital is the only inpatient psychiatric facility between Denver and Salt Lake City. So its parent nonprofit, Mind Springs Health, is venturing far and wide for support.

Because West Springs Hospital is the only such facility on the Western Slope, it essentially provides services to all Coloradans west of the Continental Divide, said Roger Sheffield, Mind Springs vice president of development. The hospital is used extensively, and the numbers show a crisis-level need for expansion, he said.

The hospital expansion project aims to double its number of patient beds, from 32 to 64 beds.

Last year the hospital saw 1,373 unduplicated patients, accounting for 10,000 bed days, said Sheffield. Western Colorado has only six beds for every 100,000 people, whereas the Front Range has 24 beds for every 100,000. And an inpatient’s average stay is seven days at West Springs Hospital.

The hospital has been running at 100 percent occupancy for about two and a half years, and on any given day, eight to 12 people are on its waiting list. Some days, the hospital has had as many at 22 people on the waiting list.

Those are people who, instead of being in treatment at a psychiatric facility, are in a jail, in an emergency room or at home surrounded by their family members, said Sheffield.

Other patients have had to travel to the Front Range or out of state to get quicker access to psychiatric services.

“We continue to see local hospitals in western Colorado and law enforcement facilities housing patients” who actually need mental health care, said Sheffield.

From 2015 to 2016, the number of patients from Garfield County admitted at West Springs Hospital increased by 41 percent, and that is expected to continue, said Sheffield.

Expanding the psychiatric hospital “will provide more availability for patients to stay at West Springs when they’re in a crisis situation,” said Sheffield.

Mental health issues are treatable, said Sheffield. “If we can get them into a secure, safe, healing environment early on, it’s much more likely they’ll be on the road to recovery. These people can live healthy, productive lives.”

This project will cost about $34 million. Mind Springs is aiming to raise $17.7 million of that through charitable donations, and the rest it will finance.

By the end of 2016, Mind Springs had collected $10 million. Recently the project was also awarded a $2 million grant from the Colorado Health Foundation. In August, St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction contributed $2.5 million. Mind Springs has also been successful in getting donations from all over the state, from Front Range foundations to philanthropic individuals.

“We’ve had a very good first year of fundraising but still have a long way to go,” said Sheffield. “People are becoming more aware of mental health issues and realizing that treatment works. It’s no longer a hushed topic; it’s out in the open.”

Eagle County has also made an initial contribution of $10,000.

“Every commissioner we’ve talked to so far agrees that there’s a critical need, and they want to get this done as soon as possible,” said Sheffield.

The lack of mental health services doesn’t just impact law enforcement and hospitals but reverberates throughout these counties, affecting human services departments and civic and social organizations, he said.

Construction on the new facility is hoped to begin by mid to late summer, depending upon how soon Mind Springs can hit its fundraising goal.

“Let’s set the standard high,” said Commissioner John Martin, who said he was willing to commit the $50,000 Mind Springs requested.

Commissioner Mike Samson, too, said that the Mind Springs hospital performs a valuable service that Garfield County should pay its fair share into.

Commissioner Tom Jankovsky was keen on pushing neighboring counties to contribute to West Springs Hospital as well.

Working with a projected $17 million reduction in property tax revenue tied to natural gas this year, the commissioners are going to have to approve a budget supplement to make this $50,000 contribution work and decide which reserve fund to pull from.

Sheffield said Mind Springs was taking similar requests to other Western Slope counties it covers, including Summit, Moffat and Routt counties and a mental health district that covers Delta and Montrose counties.

“I agree this is something we need to do,” said Jankovsky, but he also wanted to see pressure applied to other counties.

Martin said he was looking at the decision from the point of view of what insufficient mental health services would cost the Western Slope in the long run. “If we’re able to finally get something started, we could see a reduction in other areas, like law enforcement and emergency services,” he said.

Though the county might not see a direct return on investment, the counties of the Western Slope could see an “indirect return” in terms of the health of its citizens, he said.

Garfield County’s support will also help Mind Springs when it goes to these other counties to solicit funding, said Sheffield.

“We’ll be the leaders and set the pace, and if people want to follow it will be up to them,” said Martin.

By Ryan Summerlin
Post Independent