Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Midwestern Colorado Mental Health Center

By Will Paterson

The Midwestern Colorado Mental Health Center (MCMHC) is the only community mental health care provider in six counties of the Western Slope region: Delta, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Montrose, Ouray, and San Miguel. And because of this, the MCMHC accepts referrals from primary care doctors from all over the region. On the surface this has been an effective solution. The MCMHC has the resources and the experience to handle mental health disorders that primary care physicians do not. The MCMHC also has the funding to help Medicaid, low income, and indigent patients, so they can accept nearly everyone. But until recently there has been an important flaw in the system. Adolescent patients were missing their appointments in large numbers. When they studied the problem, they realized 94 percent of patients, ages 11-18, never made it to their appointments. Looking at it a little further, it was easy to see why. These are rural counties, traversed by winding mountain roads that can turn a 20 minute summer drive into an hour long adventure in winter. And perhaps more importantly, there is a stigma attached to mental health centers that stretches back to the days of asylums.

The lack of adolescent mental health care is made more critical when considering the effects of going without treatment. “National statistics will tell you that half of all lifetime cases of mental illness are diagnosed by age 14. And if children aren’t diagnosed early, it’s usually ten years from onset to diagnosis and treatment”, said Janey Sorensen, the marketing director for the Mental Health Center. A lot can happen in those ten years, and adolescence is already difficult enough without mental health challenges such as untreated depression, bipolar disorder, or even schizophrenia.

However, because of Rural Philanthropy Days the MCMHC has been able to begin assessing and treating many of the adolescent patients who used to go without treatment. In June of 2009 Janey Sorensen attended Rural Philanthropy Days in Crested Butte as a representative of MCMHC. She enjoyed seminars, workshops, and dinners with funders and other nonprofits from around the Western Slope. She met representatives from the Colorado Health Foundation at the Roundtable discussions, where she was able to share stories from her time at the hospital and begin talking about a funding partnership to correct this unmet need. The relationship developed quickly through email and phone calls, and within a month the MCMHC was applying for funding from The Colorado Health Foundation. Less than six months after Rural Philanthropy Days, The Colorado Health Foundation had awarded the MCMHC two grants totaling $259,561 to begin the Pediatric Integration Project and to update all their electronic health records.

Among other things, that money has allowed the MCMHC to place a behavioral health therapist onsite at the pediatric clinics in Montrose and Delta. Now, pediatricians can walk patients and their parent(s) straight to a therapist in the clinic, and the patient can be seen and treated in a familiar environment in conjunction with his or her pediatrician, avoiding many of the previous obstacles to treatment. Of the 1050 adolescents who come into the clinics for Well Child Checkups every year, the MCMHC predicts 350 will screen for a mental health disorder. More important than the numbers though, because of Rural Philanthropy Days and the partnership between the MCMHC and the Colorado Health Foundation, “these children will be more successful in school; they will have better friendships, better relationships with their families, and therefore they will have more successful lives,” this according to Janey Sorensen.

The partnership that developed through a conversation at Rural Philanthropy Days has produced tangible outcomes for the communities served by MCMHC: locally accessible services that bring balance and wellness to the lives of young people. To learn more about Rural Philanthropy Days, please visit

1 comment:

  1. Wow! This is really cool! Thanks for posting!