Going The Distance: Colorado Health Access Fund

Cindy Willard

For most visitors, a long drive along Colorado State Highway 50 is a pleasure. Mountains surround the roadway as it winds through Southern Colorado. Over each hill is a landscape that changes from high desert to forested mountains to open valleys.

But for those who live in remote areas of our state, long drives present a very real barrier to needed services, including behavioral health care. One doctor’s visit or prescription pickup can require a full day away from work or family.

In 2015, the CHA Fund distributed nearly $2.2 million in funding to 28 grantees across the state that are doing some very innovative things to bridge the divides of distance. 

Long distances are among many impediments to care that rural Coloradans face. When coupled with a limited number of medical providers and a pervasive stigma about behavioral health, accessing needed services becomes a real challenge.

That’s one of many reasons why the Colorado Health Access Fund supports expanding access to behavioral health care statewide. Launched in partnership with The Denver Foundation in 2015 with an anonymous $40 million gift, the CHA Fund supports programs and activities that strive to improve health outcomes for populations with high healthcare needs. Many of those populations are located in areas with fewer than one behavioral health provider for every 4,600 residents.

In 2015, the CHA Fund distributed nearly $2.2 million in funding to 28 grantees across the state that are doing some very innovative things to bridge the divides of distance. Health Solutions in Pueblo, for example, used CHA Fund dollars to increase its use of telepsychiatry services to provide high level, specialized services to residents of Pueblo, Las Animas, and Huerfano counties. Telepsychiatry enables patients to consult with a psychiatrist using a real-time video interface.

“We had patients driving up to 110 miles for appointments before this program,” says James Hill, a registered nurse who supports both the psychiatrist and patients through the process. “Clients can now get an appointment in a matter of a few days, rather than a few months.”

The potential applications of telepsychiatry grow every day. Health Solutions recently partnered with other providers in Pueblo as well as at Mt. San Rafael Hospital Clinic in Trinidad to use the technology to support adult services, substance abuse prevention and treatment, domestic violence victim advocacy, and other programs. Now primary care doctors in the network have a resource they can consult on behavioral health matters, as well as a place to refer patients. Patients are better informed and actively participate in their health treatment.

In the program’s first six months, Health Solutions’ telepsychiatry services reached 358 individuals. Drop-in services and televideo consultations have decreased the number of frantic phone calls, inpatient admissions, and hospital emergency room visits over the past year. The program has been such a success that Health Solutions is exploring an expansion of telepsychiatry programs into the Spanish Peaks Regional Health Center in Walsenburg. Chantelle Santistevan, a registered nurse who works out of the site in Trinidad, has seen the program’s impact on individual lives.

"I’ve seen this client really turn his life around with the help of our services."

“We have one client who was always in the ER or jail for his substance use and usually would end up having to be hospitalized,” she says. “Since his online sessions, he has not had to be seen for crisis, has completed therapy, has maintained sobriety, and is stable on his medications. I’ve seen this client really turn his life around with the help of our services.”

Stories like these are not uncommon among the 32,000 Coloradans who received behavioral health care during the CHA Fund’s first round of funding. In both rural and urban settings, the CHA Fund focused on the needs of special populations, including the elderly, people with disabilities, children, and people experiencing homelessness. In the future, the CHA Fund will continue to seek opportunities to support people in underserved areas, including the Eastern Plains, where resources for behavioral health are sparse.

No matter where in Colorado a person lives, behavioral health is key to wellness and quality of life. Fortunately, new tools, energy, and resources bridge divides and distance. Along with the generosity of caring people in our community, we’re moving closer to making Colorado a healthier, more connected place.

The Colorado Health Access Fund: Committed to Care. Between 2015 and 2022, the Colorado Health Access Fund, which is managed by The Denver Foundation, will award up to $5 million per year to initiatives that serve high-needs populations across the state. The next round of funding will be awarded in September 2017. For more information, visit the Colorado Health Access Fund page on The Denver Foundation’s website.

Contact us

Senior Communications Officer: Laura Bond | lbond@denverfoundation.org

Communications Associate: Dele Johnson | djohnson@denverfoundation.org

  • Colorado Health Access