By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver
(Denver, Colo.) A formerly homeless woman who advocates for the unhoused has petitioned the WellPower CEO regarding long wait times for mental health treatment.
Mary Anna Thompson created a petition on Change.org that calls on Dr. Carl Clark to implement changes to expedite appointments at WellPower, formerly Mental Health Center Denver. “When a person needs therapy, it can take up to six weeks from the time of intake to being assigned a therapist,” she alleges in the petition. “It takes a lot of courage to admit that you need help especially when mental health carries the stigma that it does.”
The petition had 44 signatures as of noon May 31.
In a statement to NewsBreak, WellPower explained a labor shortage has impacted wait times. “Important to note that nationwide mental health service providers are facing skyrocketing demand, an intense shortage of clinicians and higher acuity, which means people are staying in treatment longer, making it more challenging for existing clinicians to serve more and more people,” said Kate Osmundson, director of communications and marketing at WellPower. “Our $50K Living Wage Initiative is helping us recruit and retain employees, while our TherapyDirect program is bridging the gap for people with immediate online appointments with a counselor. This is a very complicated issue, and one we are trying to address from all angles to support well-being in Denver for all."
TherapyDirect offers instant online help
The TherapyDirect program allows people to go online and chat with a WellPower peer specialist or therapist within minutes. There is no charge for the grant-funded program, which can be accessed three times per year per person. However, it only is available 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. People in a crisis can visit WellPower’s 24/7 crisis center at 4353 E. Colfax Ave.
Colorado Coalition for the Homeless accepts walk-in appointments at its Stout Street Clinic when available. Sometimes it can take up to a week for an appointment, according to Coalition Chief Communications Officer Cathy Alderman.
Osmundson said WellPower is committed to serving people experiencing homelessness. “We couldn’t agree more that our unhoused neighbors are deserving of the best care possible,” she wrote in an email to NewsBreak. “As a demonstration to this commitment, we pioneered a number of first-in-the-nation programs designed specifically to address challenges they face, including pairing clinicians with park rangers and paramedics, and the Behavioral Health Solutions Center, a 24/7/365 drop-off facility offering crisis stabilization and a transitional shelter program, as well as several supportive housing communities, most notably Sanderson Apartments.”
Case managers needed
According to the Change.org petition, it can take up to a year to obtain a case manager with WellPower. “Our unhoused are put on a list of up to a year waiting for a case manager. Us advocates with HAND (Housekeys Action Network Denver) are saying that your client, our unhoused, shouldn't suffer waiting for help as everything, housing and resources for stability must go through a case manager.”
In an email to NewsBreak, WellPower stated it does offer those extra services. “WellPower services are paired with many ‘extras’ that address social determinants of health, including food assistance, help with housing, job/education training, addiction treatment, etc. When serving the unhoused, most need more than mental health services to be well and WellPower is focused on wraparound services. Of course, there can be really challenging accessibility issues for this community, including if they don’t have a phone (although our social workers try to get them one immediately if that’s the case) and it can be challenging to ‘follow up’ or keep them in services, if you don’t know where they are, or they stop coming to appointments, etc.”