Eagle County creating more options to transport those in need of behavioral health treatment

When it opens in late 2024 or early 2025, Vail Health’s Healing Center at Edwards will provide behavioral health facilities to both inpatient and outpatient clients.
Photo courtesy of Vail Health

Local behavioral health care has changed a lot in the past few years. Another change may come in the next year.

The Eagle County Board of Commissioners recently approved a set of regulations and licensing requirements for the safe transportation of behavioral health patients. The system went into effect on Sunday, January 1st, and will take some time to build.

Currently, a person in crisis taken to the local emergency room for treatment may be sent to an inpatient facility for more extensive care. There are no such facilities in the county, which means that the patient is transported by ambulance.

It’s an expensive trip and takes the ambulance and its crew out of the county for at least half a day.

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The new regulations will allow other firms to obtain a license to transport some patients. This may include private security or private transport firms that decide to get into the business.

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Licenses fall into two categories. A Class A license allows the use of physical restraints on patients. A Class B license permits the transport of patients who are not confined to hospitals, ambulatory or similar facilities.

Licensed vehicles may or may not have a police car-like partition between driver and passenger.

More transport options

Heath Harmon, Eagle County director of public health and environment, said the new licensing structure is an opportunity to make transportation services more accessible in the community.

Harmon said working on the new regulations involved working “hand in hand” with Vail Health, Eagle County Paramedic Services – the local EMS district – Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, the Center for Hope and the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.

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Chris Lindley, Vail Health’s chief population health officer, noted that the new licensing requirements “won’t have too much of an effect at first,” adding that Eagle County Paramedic Services remains the sole provider of safe patient transport for now.

In an email, Eagle County Executive Brandon Daruna wrote that there are still many unanswered questions about the new requirements. But, he wrote, the county will continue to work with Eagle County “to help potentially expand transportation options.”

Daruna noted that transporting patients can have an effect on area staff, although “We have, however, designed our system with (that) potential impact in mind.”

However, Harmon said, over the past three years, with the COVID-19 pandemic, along with a surge in other respiratory illnesses this fall, a lot of out-of-county medical transport has been needed, primarily in the Denver area. “It puts a lot of strain” on the EMS district, he noted.

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Local help is coming

It will take some time to get the new licensing system up and running. But more help is coming, in the form of a new behavioral health campus at Edwards.

That facility, located on the southeast side of the Edwards Interstate 70 interchange, will be the first new community mental health center in Colorado in nearly 30 years.

“We’re building the whole continuum of (behavioral health care), whether it’s outpatient, inpatient or group support,” Lindley said. That facility is expected to be ready by the end of 2024 or the first quarter of 2025.

That facility will make greater care more accessible to patients. It will also make life a little easier for those transporting those patients.

“We are excited to be operating a behavioral health facility,” wrote Daruna. “Having a facility where patients can be treated in their own community—surrounded by family, friends and support groups—can make a huge difference to patients and patient care. If it takes a few minutes instead of a few hours to get them to the care they need, that’s even better.”


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