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Gunnison Valley Health’s Behavioral Health Department Celebrates a Successful First Year

July marked the end of a successful first year of services provided by Gunnison Valley Health’s Behavioral Health department. The department expanded offerings and grew rapidly during its first year of operation, all in response to the needs identified in the community.

Gunnison Valley Health Behavioral Health Director, Kimberly Behounek, said that there are many reasons to celebrate and still a lot of work to be done.

“I am proud of everything that my team has accomplished during our first year. This group of professionals is incredibly dedicated to supporting every person and has come together to build a strong, high performing service line in a relatively short amount of time,” Behounek said. “We know there are still gaps and areas of need for the community, but I believe we have built a strong foundation that will support development of the services necessary to meet those needs.”

The Gunnison Valley Health Behavioral Health department currently provides outpatient services including a psychiatric nurse practitioner; peer support services; school-based services at Lake and Gunnison Elementary Schools, Crested Butte Middle School, Crested Butte High School and Western Colorado University; jail-based services; and mobile crisis services.

For Gunnison Valley Health Foundation Executive Director and Community Well-Being Liaison, Jenny Birnie, community partnerships are instrumental to their success.

“By working closely with other organizations and agencies we have been able to achieve some amazing things,” Birnie said. “Our team has a strong relationship with local law enforcement, EMS, the school district, local non-profits, local government and other providers which enables us to do so much more than we could on our own.”

This collaborative approach underscores all of the work done by the Gunnison Valley Health team, but is best highlighted through three highly-successful services: the Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) Clinic provided through a partnership with Front Range Clinic; school-based services offered through partnerships with the Gunnison Watershed School District and Western Colorado University; and mobile crisis services built on a partnership with Colorado Crisis Services and Rocky Mountain Health Plans.

“The data we are tracking for our services is starting to highlight the positive impact that we are having for people in the community. It is exciting to see and motivates the team to continue building and working to do more for people,” Birnie said. “Our mobile crisis clinicians were able to respond to many calls without EMS or law enforcement on scene which frees up our first responders for other emergencies in the valley. And having our peer support specialists do transports for people needing a higher level of care has decreased the time people wait in the emergency room, it connects people to the care they need much faster than we have seen in the past.”

As Gunnison Valley Health looks to the future of behavioral health services there are some specific needs and initiatives that are rising to the top. This includes growing more local providers to reduce waitlists for outpatient services and expanding services for substance use disorders.

“There are a lot of great providers working in the valley, but there remains a need to increase our numbers and improve access for those seeking services,” Behounek said. “We need to find creative ways to grow local providers and recruit new talent to our valley.”

With the recent data collected from the Community Health Coalition’s Behavioral Health Survey and Gunnison Valley Health’s Community Health Needs Assessment the team is ready to dive in and continue building a continuum of care for the community.

“We have a lot of plans for the next year including embedding providers at various community locations, strengthening bonds between social workers already working within the health system, bringing more services to the north end of the valley and continuing to work with our partners to quickly meet needs as they emerge.” Birnie said. “I am grateful to live in a place that understands the importance of behavioral health services and is putting forth the resources and effort needed to keep people safe and healthy.”