This article was first published in the Vail Daily on August 16, 2019.
To understand that our country is facing a mental health crisis, you only have to look to our youngest citizens whose rates of depression and suicide are dramatically increasing. Nationally, suicide is the second-leading cause of death for youth ages 10-35, according to studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While our idyllic location in the Rocky Mountains may make it seem we are removed from the intensity and scope of the problems we see on the nightly news, we are not immune. In fact, Eagle County lies within the “suicide belt” that stretches from Montana down the Rocky Mountains to New Mexico. Last year in Eagle County, there were 17 suicides — that’s a rate of 32+ per 100,000, higher than any rate in the nation.
A call to action
Last year, these terrifying statistics and real lives lost led me to draw a line in the sand. Enough talking, enough meetings. It was time for radical innovation and change.
At the next Eagle County Paramedic Services Board of Directors meeting, I proposed we create a fund of $100,000 to start working on the problem immediately. I suggested bringing the Hope Center into our valley and supporting them with a community paramedic from our organization to respond to people in crisis. Within six months, we had an operational program, which now responds to anyone in crisis in our community 24 hours a day, every day, by calling 911.
Since launching this program in October 2018, we have reduced ambulance transports to local emergency departments by 78%. We have saved over $250,000 in health-care charges to insurance companies or individuals for the cost of ambulance services alone, and another $920,000 in potential emergency department bills. We have done this as a team that includes every major health provider in our community. It is one important step in solving the behavioral health crisis, but there is so much more work to do.
Coming together as a community
Vail Health’s recent commitment of $60 million dollars over the next 10 years signified another monumental step. It provided true hope for transformative change and has allowed for the establishment of Eagle Valley Behavioral Health.
Next, the appointment of Chris Lindley as executive director of EVBH marks yet another critical step towards building a facility for behavioral health, hiring care providers and increasing access to affordable behavioral health care right here in our community. Chris is a trusted colleague and friend, and I have great hope for the future knowing he will lead the charge. I will do everything I can to support him.
There is no magic bullet to fix the behavioral health crisis locally or nationally. Many people have asked if this is a new problem, if we are better at recognizing it or if it’s a combination of the two. The answers to those questions aren’t easy to find, but we are starting to understand how we got here, address the underlying causes, fix existing issues and prevent future breakdowns in behavioral health care.
I am proud to help solve this problem in our community, as a community. We must all support the local programs and initiatives dedicated to this effort, and seek innovative solutions to care. There are so many organizations that are doing great work in behavioral health care and prevention. Each of these organizations is working toward a common goal with one purpose, to improve the mental health of our community, one step at a time.
For more information about what we do, please visit http://www.eaglecountyparamedics.com
Christopher A. Montera is the CEO of Eagle County Paramedic Services