Mental health projects seek DougCo ARPA money

Mike McKibbin

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Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas listens as Laura Ciancone, the county's mental health initiative coordinator, talks Thursday. |Douglas County/YouTube

By Mike McKibbin/NewsBreak Denver

[DOUGLAS COUNTY, COLO.] More than $9.5 million of Douglas County’s $68.2 million in American Recovery Plan Act funds could help fund seven mental health-related projects.

Money from the federal act is to help states and local governments recover from lost revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The project requests were explained during a Thursday live town hall hosted by the county commissioners.

Mental health is one of five areas the commissioners have designated for the money. Others are broadband, community recovery, economic recovery, and water and wastewater treatment.

Broad range of needs

The mental health projects would help address a wide range of needs:

• A walk-in center for all ages and a 10,000-square foot, 16-bed child and adolescent crisis stabilization unit for ages 5 to 21;

• A network for existing providers who serve those with complex mental health, substance use disorder, and intellectual and developmental disability needs;

• An expansion of the county’s community response teams of fire, emergency medical services, law enforcement and a clinician to respond to calls when mental health is the primary issue.

Sheriff’s Deputy Zach Zepeski called his involvement in the program “the most impactful team I’ve worked on.”

“We’re not the people to decide if there is a behavioral issue, so when we show up with a clinician, we can provide a level of care that we’re really proud to do,” he said.

Dr. Jim Baroffio, CEO of the grant-making foundation Caring Communities of Colorado, said the teams had “helped with natural destigmatization by delivering these services.”

“It’s incumbent on all of us to destigmatize mental health issues and consider them in the same vein as physical health issues,” he added.

• A suicide prevention grant program for “evidence-based, research-informed, promising practices and/or innovative approaches” to suicide prevention, similar to a non-profit grant program launched by the county with CARES Act dollars in 2020.

Commissioner Abe Laydon said he had lost five people to suicide during the pandemic.

“I know I’m not alone in seeing that kind of devastation,” he added.

• A multi-county collaborative network to serve local military veterans would include a full-time, specialized, veteran-specific position for Douglas and Arapahoe County Veteran Affairs Offices and a part-time Douglas County veteran service officer; and

• Case management software upgrades for community response teams and Care Compact programs.

Another request not discussed would help fund a transition of Colorado’s crisis and suicide prevention hotline to a 988 suicide prevention hotline.

Commissioners voice support

Commissioner George Teal said he had become a “pretty big fan” of the walk-in clinic idea. As a Castle Rock town councilman, he voted against that town’s crisis response team pilot project.

“Within the first few months, we saw the results and I became a believer and enthusiastic supporter,” Teal stated. “So now when we have an opportunity to expand those teams, it’s an easy ‘yes’ for me. Everything we’ve heard is worth considering.”

Teal also said the federal funds would be used for start-up and initial operations costs and the county would likely provide continuing funding through existing revenue.

“We have no plans to raise taxes or take away any services” to pay for any new programs, he added.

Laydon noted while the county is charged with protecting the health, safety and welfare of its 300,000 residents, “we remain fiscally conservative.

“I’m not interested in growing government but in convening partners to do good things,” he said.

“We can’t solve the issue of people taking their lives if we don’t understand what’s leading up to that,” said Commissioner Lora Thomas. “As county coroner, I sat in far too many homes with families who lost a loved one and had no idea why.”

Thomas added she would support these types of programs because they also enhance the quality of life.

For details on the mental health and other ARPA funding requests, visit the county’s web page.

To watch the live town hall, go to the county's YouTube channel.

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Mike McKibbin is an independent journalist on Colorado's Front Range and covers Douglas County for NewsBreak.

Denver, CO
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