Graph courtesy of the Aspen Hope Center

With the rollback of the emergency declaration prompted by the Omicron variant outbreak, the seven-member Basalt Town Council met in person for the first time this year at its regular meeting. The public broadcast of the meeting, which was covered remotely by The Sopris Sun, was delayed and repeatedly hampered by audio and visual technical problems.

For the most part, council members heard three presentations on mental health and substance abuse services, and how a rise in cigarette sales allowed the associated tobacco tax to cover some of the cost. The council voted to approve a resolution on a new intergovernmental agreement between Roaring Fork municipalities and Aspen Valley Hospital to provide alcohol and substance detoxification and withdrawal management care.

The year 2021, saw “an increase in people in crisis, with kids,” according to Aspen Hope Center (AHC) Executive Director Michelle Muething.  Kids in crisis is not a new situation, said Muething. The bigger problem that emerged during the pandemic was that “parents had less bandwidth to hold them together,” she said. “There were more hospitalizations of young children,” with a 137% increase in crisis evaluations for children younger than 11 years old; and a 64% increase in mental health evaluations between ages 12 and 18. “The lingering mental health effects will be seen for years to come,” predicted Muething.

Evidence that AHC provided emotional stabilization is that “not one person in our program has died from suicide,” Muething stated. She reported an increase of clinicians in the Roaring Fork School District. The Basalt-based crisis treatment center went from placing four clinicians in four schools to 12 clinicians in 12 schools, including in at least one elementary school. 

A total of 1,085 people received services for the first time from AHC last year, according to its annual report, which also showed an annual budget of $2.3 million. This is the largest number of individuals to be evaluated in a single year since the organization started 11 years ago, Muething said. In addition to providing clinical services to adults and children, AHC offers free, 24-7 mental health consultations by phone on its hopeline: 970-925-5858.

No council action was required on the presentation.

Town Manager Ryan Mahoney noted two upcoming items on the council’s calendar. He said there would be a public meet and greet for the two councilors-elect Angela Anderson and Dieter Schindler and for returning Councilor Ryan Slack on March 7 at the Basalt Library, 5:30-6:30 p.m.

Mahoney said that on March 29, the finalists for the Basalt planning director position vacated by Susan Philp, who retired last month, will give presentations on issues of their choice. “Staff and the public will get an idea on how they perform,” before one of the applicants is hired. This event will also be held at the Basalt Library.