Olivia Ortega was adventurous, athletic, and loved animals and sports, including volleyball and gymnastics. Her life was cut short by suicide at 13. To honor the life of Olivia Ortega, Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, an outreach of Vail Health, has partnered with Vail Health Foundation to launch Olivia’s Fund, a financial assistance program for local behavioral health resources.
“Imagine a system where my daughter, Olivia, could have asked for help and we could have afforded it,” said Vickie Zacher Ortega, Olivia’s mother. “My hope for Olivia’s Fund is that it will help anyone who is struggling, so they can get the treatment that they or a family member desperately needs.”
Olivia’s Fund will provide needed financial assistance to patients for behavioral health services. The fund will cover up to six free sessions per year for anyone who lives or works in Eagle County and cannot afford treatment, regardless of their insurance situation. The provider will discuss alternate and sustainable funding options with the patient if more than six sessions are needed.
“With the uncertainty our community is facing in light of (the COVID-19 virus), there are many people who need access to behavioral health resources now, and we decided we could not, and should not, wait to launch Olivia’s Fund,” said Eagle Valley Behavioral Health Executive Director Chris Lindley in a news release. “We need to launch Olivia’s Fund now, as members of our community face behavioral health problems that might be being exacerbated by this COVID-19 crisis due to a loss of work, working from home, isolation, family pressures, domestic abuse, substance abuse, social bullying, or more. For those facing behavioral health issues, do not let finances be a barrier to seek help. Reach out now.”
In 2017, when she was seeking help for her daughter, Vickie became familiar with the limitations that existed in the local behavioral health system at that time. Vickie said a change in Olivia’s personality happened in sixth grade when she experienced extreme bullying. Olivia started finding notes from classmates in her backpack and locker stating she should kill herself.
The family did everything it could to care for Olivia and met several obstacles. It took a month and a half to get Olivia in to see a counselor because of a lack of local providers at the time. Furthermore, the visits were not covered by health insurance and the family did not qualify for financial assistance, making the out-of-pocket charge of $270 per hour impossible to sustain at the frequency of sessions Olivia needed.
Olivia’s pain was too great. She took her life in February of 2018, just a few days after her 13th birthday. Grief rippled from her family and throughout the community as the tragic news spread. The powerlessness felt by so many was quickly followed by many local leaders and organizations wanting to do more.
“Olivia’s death was a wake-up call to our community that something needed to change,” said Will Cook, the president and CEO of Vail Health. “As the community’s health care system, we could not afford to sit back and wait for someone else to take the reins and fix the flaws in the behavioral health system. This tragic event was one of the primary catalysts for the creation of Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, and we hope to honor Olivia through this fund and help provide support to those in need within our community.”
Eagle Valley Behavioral Health was formed in the summer of 2019 to lead the community in transforming the Eagle River Valley’s behavioral health system. It grew out of 18 months of planning by community leaders, parents, philanthropists, and nonprofits, as well as a $60 million commitment over 10 years from Vail Health.
In Dec. 2019, the Vail Health Foundation launched the campaign, It Takes A Valley: Transforming Behavioral Health, to raise $100 million for a total investment of $160 million to address the issue during the next decade.
“We must do better; no parent should be left without the resources to care for their child,” said Cook.
Click here to donate to Olivia’s Fund.