Behavioral Health now has space for growth

Aeden Valdez-Baker added his own touches to the “Rise Above” mural that adorns the wall in the new Behavioral Health building. He was one of many youths who helped paint the mural with help from graphic artist Jonathan Judge, Director of Media and Campaigns for Rise Above Colorado.
Robert L. Ortiz | SU Drum archive

The Southern Ute Behavioral Health Department has now been in their new building and providing in-person treatments since June 2021, first offering services during the pandemic. With the new building comes a significant increase in staffing and patients, including 14 employees, plus four contract personnel. “We now have therapists, counselors, a PEER recovery coach, a psychologist and behavioral health coordinator to transition patients to behavioral health,” Behavioral Health Manager, Mary Young said.

Psychotherapist, Jennifer Goodtracks has been at the Southern Ute Clinic since 1987. “It was just me, and a psychologist who divided his time between the Ignacio and the Towaoc clinics,” Goodtracks said. “Later, Robert Santistevan was the Tribal Health Tech. We also had a grant-funded social worker and a substance abuse counselor, both who were part-time employees as well as a psychiatrist from the Indian Health Services area office who came to Ignacio two times a year.”

Being in the new building does have its challenges, from being in the Southern Ute Health Center – formerly the Southern Ute Clinic. “We no longer have that warm hand-off,” Young said. Young is referring to when a patient is being seen at the clinic by a doctor and may need additional mental health assistance.

“We had that integrated care [in the clinic], if a patient was given a new diagnosis, or coping with depression or addiction when seen by the doctor, the doctor would walk them down the hallway and hand the patient off to us,” Young said.

Patients typically need to call to set up an appointment or to speak to a counselor or therapist by contacting the Southern Ute Behavioral Health Division or the Native Connections Program at 970-563-5700.

“An assessment can be done to create a baseline – a tool for the client and counselor, the assessment can explain what mental health looks like, to create a treatment plan, thus creating goals for the client,” Native Connections Program Manager, Precious Collins said.

“Screenings are still being done at the clinic, at every medical appointment, patients will do a brief depression screening, and resources will be made available at that time,” Young said.

Another challenge of getting clients treatment for counseling in the clinic – the stigma of getting counseling, “If you were called to the back-side of the building, everyone in the waiting area knew you were going back for counseling,” Goodtracks said. “We want to normalize the whole-wellness concept of counseling.” 

Being in the new building also has its advantages – space! Instead of being three to an office, Behavioral Health employees now have room to breathe and work, and with that extra room has come growth. “[The extra] space is wonderful, there’s a level of anonymity,” Young said. “The new building now has sharing spaces for therapy, large and small group rooms.” 

The future of Behavioral Health? 

“Our vision – extensive outpatient, substance abuse [treatment] plus residential care,” Young said. “Therapy, group work, support groups – a full spectrum to help people in the community.” 

“In general – a responsive department, responding to the needs, [to include] interactive groups. We are in a unique area; we need to look at and see the needs – to jump in and be more responsive … not one-size fits all … what services are really needed?” Young said.

Although the new location may not be accessible to those who cannot drive, or who may not have a ride, groups are still being held in the town of Ignacio. The groups will continue in Ignacio, based on the client’s needs and requests. Currently the White Bison Medicine Wheel and 12 Step Program are being held at the Southern Ute Museum in Ignacio. The Equine Therapy sessions will also continue in the summer.

A crucial aspect of wellness is the cultural aspect of healing. “[To] understand the client’s journey in health and wellness, through whole health, through culture,” Goodtracks said.

Behavioral Health has taken steps to also create Inclusivity spaces for all, especially our LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit clients. Some staff have gone through training with The Envision:You LGBTQ+ Behavioral Health Provider Training Program. Through this training they learned how to meet clients where they are and create the space they need to be seen and heard.

Native Connections Programs has been a very active component of Behavioral Health participating in the Suicide Prevention Month Skatepark Jam and Music in the Park in 2021. 

Native Connections was instrumental in creating the Ute Resilience Mural that adorns the wall in one of the large rooms of the new building. “Resilience. The youth in our community have participated,” Collins said, speaking of the youth helping to design, create and actually put paint to wall in creating the Rise Up mural.

“Our purpose is to create opportunities for the youth, to create space to have healthy minds. To grow, to nourish, to make healthy choices,” Collins said. “Young people culture!”

Behavioral Health has collaborated with the Southern Ute Police Department and the Ignacio School District for training, as a resource and tool for the schools and the community through programs dealing with substance abuse and prevention. Also partnering with the State of Colorado to bring Narcan and Naloxone training to the community.

“We have a finger on the pulse of the community – County and State. By collaborating on substance use and prevention within the community,” Collins added.

“I am proud of the way the path Behavioral Health has taken along the way, integrating the Behavioral Health approach, under the Tribal Health umbrella to help clients achieve wellness,” Goodtracks said. “To understand the client’s journey in health and wellness.” 

Southern Ute Behavioral Health is now located at 4101 County Road 222, on the old Growth Fund Sand & Gravel Road, 12 miles from Ignacio, going towards Durango. To set up an appointment or to see a counselor or therapist, contact the Southern Ute Behavioral Health Division or the Native Connections Program at 970-563-5700 for more information.

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