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 Precourt Healing Center in Edwards will provide behavioral health facilities to both in-patient and outpatient clients.

Vail Health/Courtesy photo

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

The Eagle County Board of Commissioners recently approved a set of regulations and licensing requirements for the secure transportation of behavioral health patients. The system took effect Sunday, Jan. 1, and will take some time to create.

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

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

The new regulations will allow other firms to become licensed for the transportation of some patients. That could include private security or private transportation firms that decide to get into the business.

Licenses fall into two categories. A Class A license allows the use of physical restraints for patients. A Class B license allows transportation of non-restrained patients to in-patient, walk-in or similar facilities.

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

More transportation options

Heath Harmon, the director of Eagle County Public Health and Environment, said the new licensing structure is an opportunity to make transportation services more available in a community.

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

Chris Lindley, chief population health officer of Vail Health, noted that the new licensing requirements “won’t have too big an effect initially,” adding that Eagle County Paramedic Services for now remains the sole provider of secure transportation for patients.

In an email, Eagle County Paramedic Services CEO Brandon Daruna wrote there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the new requirements. But, he wrote, the district will continue to work with Eagle County “to help potentially expand transportation options.”

Daruna noted that transporting patients can have an effect on the district’s staffing, although “We have, however, designed our system considering (that) potential impact.”

Still, Harmon said, the past three years, with the COVID-19 pandemic along with a surge this fall of other respiratory diseases, has required a lot of medical transportation out of the county, primarily to the Denver area. “That puts an awful lot of strain” on the ambulance district, he noted.

Local help is coming

It’s going to take some time to get the new licensing system up and running. But there’s more help coming, in the form of a new behavioral health campus in Edwards.

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

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

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

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