Virus Outbreak Mental Health

Psychologist Mary Alvord, left, holds a video conference with her colleague, psychologist Veronica Raggi, whom she had scheduled to meet in person, in Chevy Chase, Md., Wednesday, March 18, 2020. For people with anxiety disorders, the coronavirus outbreak presents a new set of worries to deal with, psychologists say. 

The possibility of an additional detox facility opening in the Roaring Fork Valley was starting to seem like a reality earlier this year.

Then COVID-19 hit.

In early 2020, the Recovery Continuum Task Force — composed of locally elected officials, behavioral health therapists, first responders, emergency room physicians and other stakeholders — began discussing ways to combat addiction at the local level. A frequent talking point during those conversations was how people in need of substance-abuse treatment all too often were being routed to emergency rooms or jail instead of a detox facility.

Currently, if a Roaring Fork Valley resident or visitor needs services provided by a detox center, they have to travel to Aspen, Summit County or Grand Junction to receive that treatment.

The Recovery Continuum Task Force was working to secure funding, largely from public entities, to open an additional detox facility in Mind Springs Health’s forthcoming office in Glenwood Springs — however, when the pandemic hit and local governments were forced to tighten their budgets amid economic uncertainties, those funding conversations came to a screeching halt.

According to Outpatient Program Director Hans Lutgring, Mind Springs Health plans to move its outpatient operations into its new facility by February 2021. The timeline for an accompanying detox facility within it, though, has been extended — likely until 2022, if at all.

“We really need to kind of step back and look at, ‘What’s the financial commitment of the community?’” Lutgring said. “Who can really have enough skin in the game and [have] enough of the community partners come together and say, ‘Alright, we’ve got X-amount of money that we can spread over, you know, a five-year plan.’”

Lutgring said Mind Springs Health would still set aside space in its forthcoming building for a detox facility, should funding come together, but it could only do so for so long.

“We are going to hold that [space] for a period of one year, really with the hope that the conversations, the discussions with all of the community partners that were going to be a part of that financial piece … hopefully, those conversations continue and they are continuing,” Lutgring said.

Former YouthZone Executive Director and longtime Roaring Fork Valley community activist Debbie Wilde has been coordinating the Recovery Continuum Task Force meetings and believes that the detox facility in question would have an annual operational cost of roughly $1 million.

According to Wilde, although securing initial funding for a detox facility was feasible, the real financial challenge was finding those same dollars in a year-after-year capacity. Last year, Glenwood Springs voters authorized a new sales tax that tacked on an additional $4 to a pack of cigarettes, as well as a 40% sales tax on the sale of all other tobacco products. According to the specific ballot language, the revenue generated from the tobacco tax would “be used for drug, alcohol and tobacco prevention, cessation, treatment, enforcement, youth mental and physical health, detox facilities and other related city expenses.”

However, Wilde also made clear that finding money for a detox facility was not the Recovery Continuum Task Force’s sole purpose.

“Doing a detox is not a small undertaking by any means,” Wilde said. “Even if you had detox, one of the critical pieces is case management.”

Earlier this year, as conversations about a detox facility persisted, Mind Springs Health hired and deployed a new Mobile Recovery Team, which includes two case managers and two peer specialists, when fully staffed.

Peer specialists work closely with hospitals and law enforcement — particularly on mental health calls — to provide on-scene intervention to individuals with behavioral health disorders or symptoms.

“We are seeing some great response from that [Mobile Recovery Team]. … That was a big win for us,” Wilde said. “[A detox facility] wasn’t all that this was about — the end goal was about people living in recovery.”

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo also believes an additional detox facility is just one piece to the larger conversation surrounding mental health in general.

“I still think we’re crawling in the world of detox and sometimes we use the jail or the hospital as a default and I’m not sure that’s a good route,” DiSalvo said. “We shouldn’t limit it to just detox; we are talking about mental health as well. I mean, we do hold a lot of people with mental illness in jail just as a default because there is no place else to put them.”

Matthew Bennett is a reporter for the Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at: matthew@aspendailynews.com