Our view: Treating troubled residents in a secure setting

At issue: Steamboat Springs is hours away from the nearest mental health hospital, but help is on the way. Our view: We commend UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center for taking the initiative to begin to remodel its emergency department to include two non-threatening safe rooms for people in the community who are experiencing mental health issues. Editorial Board • Suzanne Schlicht, COO and publisher • Lisa Schlichtman, editor • Tom Ross, reporter • Hannah Hoffman, community representative • Bob Schneider, community representative Contact the editorial board at 970-871-4221 or

Routt County is well-served by Mind Springs Health in Steamboat Springs. And it’s reassuring that Mind Springs broke ground in September 2017 on its new state-of-the-art West Springs Hospital in Grand Junction and a ribbon-cutting for the new facility was held last week. Yet, the local community very much needs private beds where people who are experiencing mental health issues – including people exhibiting suicidal tendencies — can be safe and secure.

President and CEO of Mind Springs Health Sharon Raggio said last year that the need for the regional facility in Grand Junction is urgent, and it will certainly save lives.

Now, UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, with the support of $150,000 from its community foundation of the same name, has begun building two safe rooms toward the rear of its emergency department. Steamboat Today reported this week the rooms are due for completion in February.

Explaining the need for the new facilities, emergency room physician Nathan Anderson said, “We have one whole room for trauma patients, another for cardiac patients, and we have rooms that are customized for pediatric patients. But one of the things we were looking to do is address this other need – the mental illness issue.”

Gina Toothaker, program director for Mind Springs Health in Routt and Jackson counties, shared with Steamboat Today readers in the spring of 2014 that more people than many of us understand have issues with their mental health.

“One in every four people experiences an emotional, behavioral, mental or substance abuse order, and Mind Springs strives to create a sense of sanctuary for clients,” here, Toothaker wrote in a column for the newspaper.

We are encouraged by the approach UCHealth is taking toward its two new beds in the emergency department, and their promise of providing an environment where patients with mental health issues can feel not just safe and secure, but benefit from increased privacy.

Far from being isolation or containment units, Anderson said, the new rooms will increase patient safety in unpredictable circumstances. A significant emphasis is on reducing the risk of patients who are suicidal or want to harm themselves.

The rooms will be monitored by video camera and will also be large enough for family members to visit.

There is more work to be done. Across Colorado’s rural Western Slope, in smaller communities with fewer resources than Steamboat Springs and Routt County, patients with mental health care needs are sometimes treated in inappropriate facilities, including law enforcement facilities.

Fortunately, with Mind Springs’ new 64-bed psychiatric hospital – the only one of its kind between Denver and Salt Lake City – on the way, the future of treating mental health issues in the region looks promising.

The residents of the Yampa Valley are fortunate that our hospital is taking complementary steps.


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