Mind Springs CEO says telehealth program could address some shortfalls for mental health care provider
Mind Springs saw declines in patients and services provided in Routt County last year because of low staffing levels
Mind Springs saw a decline in both the number of patients it served and the number of services those patients received in Routt County during the last fiscal year, but that wasn’t because there was less of a need.
Instead, the declines can be attributed to a lack of staff in Steamboat Springs, the company’s new CEO John Sheehan said during a meeting with Routt County commissioners on Monday, Aug. 29.
“We’re not providing enough care for the community to meet demand,” Sheehan said. “We’re seeing a tsunami of need, and probably just seeing a part of it.”
Mind Springs is responsible for providing mental health care for Medicaid recipients and people who are indigent, underinsured or in crisis in a 10-county area in Colorado, including Routt.
However, the company has been under heightened scrutiny since the Colorado News Collaborative published an investigative series outlining how the nonprofit has been failing many Coloradans. Summit County commissioners have been particularly vocal about what they see as Mind Springs’ failures and took the initial steps to cut ties with Mind Springs in March.
Sheehan started in August and came into the role after having spent most of his career in the health care industry, including working for Harbor, which is the largest provider of children’s Medicare mental health services in Ohio. He said he is passionate about behavioral health and making sure people get the services they need.
“I think any change to the status quo will probably be a good thing,” said Routt County Commissioner Tim Corrigan. “Thank you for the attitude that you have. Let’s just see what you actually get done.”
The number of patients served in Routt County last fiscal year — from July 1, 2021, to June 30 — declined from 645 to 642, and those patients received about 5% fewer services overall.
“The drop in services had to do with the staff that we had available on-site,” explained Elizabeth Tice, who has been with Mind Springs for eight years and is now chief operating officer. “We believe that the demand exceeds our current capacity, and that’s why we’re engaging efforts into expanding that capacity.”
Data shared Monday did not include how many requests for services Mind Springs had locally — something Commissioner Tim Redmond asked for and Tice said she could provide later.
Sheehan said expanded opportunities for telehealth would be a significant avenue to increase capacity, and it’s something he has done in previous jobs. Tice said the telehealth services would be done in-house, with the providers being Mind Springs employees, not a third-party provider, though they may not necessarily live in Colorado.
The company’s current plans are to hire 10 licensed telehealth therapists and four prescribers. Sheehan said he hopes Mind Springs will be able to start that program his first year on the job.
This team will be trained on a different platform than Mind Springs has historically used. Sheehan said Mind Springs would design this new team to improve the access and quality of services, and then broaden those changes to the company at large.
“Eventually, we will move the rest of the organization into a model of care that reflects the new access model,” he said. “My goal would be to have this expansion on scale done within the first year so our resort communities, our rural communities, are feeling like you can get an appointment at Mind Springs within three to five days and actually be seeing somebody, versus today where it could be 30 days, plus.”
Routt County commissioners, particularly Corrigan, were skeptical about telehealth being the solution for Mind Springs’ woes, especially for children. But Sheehan said that in his experience, it has been successful with people under age 50, and the system Mind Springs is working to put in place would be more robust than a video conference with a provider.
Sheehan said the system would offer patients the ability to text with their therapist, have access to a broader health portal and eventually log in to an app to help keep them and their families engaged.
Sheehan also said Mind Springs has made some changes to the company’s board of directors, and he would eventually like to see representation on it from each of the counties Mind Springs serves.
“I think part of the issue that Mind Springs had is that we tried to come in from the outside and say, ‘Here’s what we think is important,’” Sheehan said. “I’ve found that to be the wrong approach in my career.”
Following the meeting, commissioners expressed a mix of optimism and skepticism about Mind Springs going forward.
“It all sounds good,” Corrigan said. “We’ll see what happens.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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