An increase in severity: Commentary on an article from The Denver Post

By Jim Uhernik, Director of Business Development

An article published today in The Denver Post highlighted a significant gap in Colorado’s mental health system. Mount Saint Vincent is a provider of mental health services, caring for some of the most vulnerable children in Colorado. While the article focuses on adults, we at Mount Saint Vincent have seen similar issues like the ones discussed, but with children.

Five years ago, Fort Logan closed its children’s units. When that happened, the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) asked nonprofit mental health providers, including Mount Saint Vincent, to create solutions to address the decreased availability of psychiatric hospital beds. Our response, like many others, was to expand the programs and services we offered and incorporate evidence-based practices and trauma-informed care models. Trauma is a nearly universal experience for individuals with behavioral health problems. It impacts every area of human functioning—physical, mental, behavioral, and social. Trauma-informed care recognizes this, and looks to create an environment that is healing and soothing, where staff convey dignity, respect, hopefulness, and empowerment among the children.

While expanded services have had a positive impact in terms of providing more preventative care, the reduction in psychiatric beds, as well as the criteria for children placed in psychiatric hospitalization, still needs to be addressed. Since that time five years ago, Mount Saint Vincent has encountered an increase in the severity of mental health issues in the children we serve. As a public charity, we had the flexibility to increase our staff to handle the new challenge. However, because of these changes, we are continually looking for new ways to cover the rising costs of providing more specialized care to a smaller number of children.

So, despite the nonprofit and private sector’s efforts to fill the gap, it’s not enough. Psychiatric hospitalization is still needed and is a critical component of Colorado’s continuum of care. Without it, Colorado cannot address children’s mental health in an appropriate manner that provides good outcomes for children, families, and the community.

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