Home Support system Eagle County Approves Northstar Center Behavioral Health Project in Edwards

Eagle County Approves Northstar Center Behavioral Health Project in Edwards



Eagle County Commissioners participate in a site visit to Vail Health’s new Northstar Center in Edwards. Project planner Tom Braun, front right, leads the tour.
Kelli Duncan / Vail Daily

Twelve years ago, when Glen and Agnes Harakal’s son suffered a mental health crisis, he was shackled and transported to Grand Junction for treatment.

“This is how we have treated mental health,” Glen said Tuesday during a speech to the Eagle County Commissioners Council.

“I would never wish anyone to go through what we’ve been through,” Agnes added.

Eagle County has come a long way since then, and following the actions of the Commissioners on Tuesday, the next step in the continued evolution of building the Valley’s behavioral health support system is imminent.

In a unanimous decision after a five-hour hearing, Commissioners approved Vail Health’s plan Modification of the development of the planned unit of the Northstar Center to allow the construction of a medical campus anchored by a behavioral health center which will include a 28-bed hospital establishment.

“This is the critical missing piece,” said Glen Harakal, one of a dozen or so residents of the county who have expressed support for the project.

Local behavioral health leaders noted that inpatient beds will fill the gap that currently exists in the valley. Right now, patients who require hospitalization for behavioral health treatment must travel to Denver or Grand Junction and often cannot find availability, even in these remote locations.

“Suicide is the second leading cause of death in Colorado among our young adults,” said Chris Lindley, population health manager for Vail Health and executive director of Eagle Valley Behavioral Health. He noted that the need for behavioral health services is particularly acute in the Colorado High Country.

Lindley said last year there were 275 attempted suicides in Eagle County.

“Almost every day, someone in our community has attempted suicide,” he noted.

In addition, an average of 14 people per month are taken into police custody.

“It’s on average a mental health check every other day,” Lindley said.

By comparison, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Vail Health has recorded a total of 70 hospitalizations.

“We’ve had 50% more mental health care than hospitalizations for COVID,” Lindley said.

A strong coalition of community resources has formed in Eagle County to address local behavioral health needs. Leading the way, Vail Health has pledged $ 60 million to this effort and has already spent $ 12 million, Lindley said. Resources such as the Hope Center of the Eagle River Valley were created to provide emergency care. But the next step is important: the creation of a hospital establishment.

“It will be the fewest people we serve… but they are the people who are at the most critical risk,” said Lindley. “Our hope is that in two years no member of the community will have to leave the county for treatment. “

“It is not a long-term rehabilitation center. It’s not a long-term mental health facility, ”Lindley continued. Instead, the Northstar Center would provide immediate services and help stabilize patients. And, when a patient leaves the facility, he or she will have a long-term care plan.

While the Behavioral Health Center is a centerpiece of the Northstar campus, it is not the only use that will work at the site. During construction, the campus will include space for the Mountain Family Health Center and the Eagle Valley Community Foundation food bank. A Colorado Mountain medical clinic will operate on site along with other community resources. All of this is planned on land that once housed various commercial uses and a lumber yard.

Central site

Three buildings are proposed as part of the Northstar campus. The first is a new 42,000 square foot building that will be constructed in what is currently a parking lot west of the existing buildings. The three-story structure will have patient beds on the second and third floors.

The remainder of the campus will be built where Northstar’s current buildings are located and will cover a maximum of 70,000 square feet – a reduction from the original plan of 85,000 square feet. According to project planner Tom Braun, the plan is to expand medical uses to this area, but the precise uses will be determined by future needs.

Braun noted that the site – in the central part of the Eagle Valley and near the Interstate 70 corridor – is ideal for the proposed use. “Sure, the behavioral health building is a focal point… but it’s so much more than that,” Braun said. “The site can support the development we have proposed.

While the central location and ease of access were cited as positive factors for the proposal, the site is also located next to a residential area – Old Edwards Estates. This proximity has raised concerns among these neighbors

Do not discuss the need

Kevin Roach, a 34-year resident of Old Edwards Estates, said he and his neighbors did not deny the need to expand behavioral health services in the county.

“We are not your enemy there,” he said. “I always object to the size and reach of this one. It’s huge. It’s intimidating. “

After an effort to educate the neighborhood by Vail Health, Braun noted that the plan had been amended to include additional landscaping and fencing and a reduction in building heights as well as a reduction in square footage.

Old Edwards Estates resident Stephanie Lord-Johnson objected to the unfolding of the Northstar project approval process, but also noted that the Northstar development team had agreed to significant changes.

“This team has shown, if nothing else, if they get direction, they will respond,” she said. On this point, the neighbors have noted changes they still want from the plan. One of their biggest demands was to eliminate a proposed on-site social detox center.

Lindley said the use of social detox was incorporated into the plan at the request of local law enforcement officials who cited the need for a place residents can safely go to when they are in need. need detox. Lindley said that on average, the county sends two residents a month to Summit County, where the closest social detox center is located.

“It’s a voluntary detoxification cure. This is not a place where you are going to lock people up, ”he explained.

The commissioners noted that the use of social detox was proposed in the next phase of development and noted that residents would not have another opportunity to challenge this use if the project was approved. The Northstar team proposed to drop this use as a permitted option for the current proposal.

Going forward, if a social detox use, as well as an emergency service operation, were part of a planned expansion, those uses would require public hearings before they could be built.

On the issue of compromise, Northstar’s housing plan was also changed during Tuesday’s hearing. County housing guidelines allow developments that offer a public benefit to apply for a 30% reduction in their housing needs. The Commissioners agreed that Northstar met this definition, but noted that it was difficult to allow a reduction in the number of units when it is also a problem of community crisis.

Enforcement of the county’s housing requirements would require the development of eight new housing units for Northstar. The 30% reduction would reduce that figure to six units.

“This is the only sticking point for me. It’s two units and it seems like a little thing to hang on to, ”said Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry.

Craig Cohn, real estate director for Vail Health, responded that Northstar would withdraw its request to reduce the number of housing units and provide all eight units as needed.

“We are a community partner. We will continue to be a community partner, ”Cohn said.

Taken with the offer to remove social detox and emergency service options as approved uses and the various other changes proposed after discussions with neighbors of Old Edwards Estates, Commissioners noted their concerns had all have been taken into account.

“I appreciate the collaborative nature of it all. When we raise concerns as a public, it improves projects, ”said Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney.

The full Northstar audience can be viewed at evtv.