In further efforts to improve the upper valley’s mental health services, the Aspen Counseling Center is planning to offer a cafe-style program in which people can discuss medications and other issues over coffee, while the judicial system moves closer to implementing a mental health court involving alternatives to incarceration.
With a new detoxification center set to open on Monday at 7 p.m. in the Schultz Health and Human Services building, the programs add up to perhaps the highest level of service the Aspen area has been able to offer to people with issues that can include addiction, mental illness, or both.
A drug-testing component for the courts and the business sector also is expected to be soon up and running at the same location.
Andrea Pazdera, director of the counseling center, said the idea behind the cafe concept is to offer coffee and pastries in a sanctuary-like setting, one that may be offered daily. Two full-time clinicians, who also provide case management for folks who have more intensive needs, can ensure that the person is doing what they need to do, which may include medication usage, she said.
“A lot of times part of wellness is being thoughtful about how you eat, how you exercise, what you’re doing in your daily activities,” Pazdera said. “Sometimes it’s people who are in recovery or are really struggling to maintain their health. It can be helpful to check in and make sure they’re on the right page in making progress.”
The closure last year of The Right Door, an Aspen-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, and Colorado West’s detox center in Glenwood Springs, created a “perfect storm for some really quality community collaboration in terms of expanding mental health and substance abuse services in Pitkin County,” she said.
The cafe will be aimed at people who need more than a weekly check-in, and could include vocational counseling, financial hardship help, physical and mental health services, and more intensive counseling.
“It could be critical for people who need that kind of resource,” Pazdera said. “But it could also serve as a place for people just to check in — not everybody can make a scheduled appointment.”
The idea is to have hours, likely in the morning and afternoons, where people know that there’s a clinician available to do check-ins.
It would also benefit police, the Pitkin County Jail and the local judicial system if the measures help to reduce criminal recidivism rates.
But overall, “our vision is wellness in our community,” Pazdera said. “That’s critical to who we are. ... What we’re really looking for is to improve that depth of quality, and part of that is having people who are in a bad spot have a consistent spot where they can just walk up. They don’t have to make a phone call.”
On the judicial side, a wide-ranging group of officials, including representatives of the legal, medical, law enforcement and community service sectors, continue to meet regularly to forge a mental-health court.
In an email earlier this month, Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely of Pitkin County Court said the advisory committee behind the new program are considering systems in use in Larimer and Boulder counties.
Larimer County’s Alternatives to Incarceration for Individuals with Mental health needs program is designed for repeat offenders with mental health issues. Those issues are related to their crimes, and the program also provides services and supervision to adults who are involved in the system due to their mental health issues, according to the Larimer County website.
In Boulder County, the Partnership for Active Community Engagement, or PACE, works in a similar fashion. In a 2005 Denver Post article, citing Boulder County’s sheriff, reported that PACE cut its clients’ cumulative jail time from roughly 10,800 days a year to only 800.
“Those systems do not use a problem-solving court approach, but rather the courts sentence the individual to complete the programs,” Fernandez-Ely wrote. “Those programs provide all the case management and supervision while providing the community services, including medication.
“We are exploring a hybrid system.”
Fernandez-Ely, Pazdera and others have visited the Front Range to observe the court programs. Pazdera, who is on the steering committee for the Pitkin County Court system, said officials want to ensure the right program is in place
“It’s just a different community,” she said. “So I think we’re being really thoughtful about it.”