The nonprofit health organization Health Solutions is celebrating 60 years as a lifesaver this month and celebrating the brave caregivers who helped establish the local mental health center.
Instead of what was then the approach of keeping mentally ill patients locked behind closed doors and isolated, these caregivers wanted to help Puebloans get out of institutions and work on their recovery in a less restrictive environment. It was a newfangled approach six decades ago and was neither popular nor mainstream.
“It was a pretty big deal,” said Jason Chippeaux, chief executive officer of Health Solutions. “It’s interesting to think that 60 years ago this month, people dreamed of opening a community mental health center.”
“Now we see 625 patients a day and we’re open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I’m sure they couldn’t even dream of something like this,” he said at the time.
The agency was founded in September 1962 as Spanish Peaks Mental Health Center. At the time, it was housed in the basement of the former Health Services building on the 100 block of Central Main Street across from the former police department, said Rob Kepplinger, Health Solutions executive vice president.
“We started with just two or three employees and currently have about 450,” said Kepplinger.
“Our building count has also grown tremendously as we have 14 service locations and over 20 buildings,” Chippeaux said.
For the past six decades, the agency has served residents of Pueblo, Las Animas, and Huerfano counties. Some of the growth is in primary health care, beyond mental health services, Chippeaux said.
“We added a broader range of primary care in 2016 because we found in research nationally and in Colorado that the average person who has a serious, ongoing mental illness dies 25 years earlier than their counterpart in the general population ‘ said Chippeaux. “Many of the deaths were attributed to a lack of access or engagement in the physical health category.”
These health services are provided at 41 Montebello Road, Suite 116. The care is open to everyone in the community, he said.
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Child and family-oriented care is planned for the future
In the near future, Health Solutions’ continued growth will take place on the former El Pueblo Adolescent Treatment Community property at 1591 Taos Road on St. Charles Mesa. Health Solutions is working to remodel the space to create a premier youth and family services center on the north side of the property.
There will be a daycare center for toddlers, a therapeutic preschool program, learning spaces, and fun amenities like a rock-climbing experience. Traditional behavioral health services as well as pediatric and family health care are also offered at the site.
“It’s always been a kid-centric place, and being able to leverage that on a robust health care continuum for the Pueblo County community is a pretty cool feature,” Chippeaux said. “It’s like a 2.0 version of the former ranch so that’s a focus for us over the next 12 to 18 months to include that component of early childhood development.”
The Family Center aims to be a place where children who are struggling at school, who are being bullied or who want to harm themselves can get help. Health Solutions also serves adults on journeys of well-being and recovery, from acute and chronic patients to those with mild and moderate symptoms.
“It’s a beautiful tapestry of healing happening daily. It’s doctors who come to treat their children, workers, professionals,” he said. “We help people get back to work or overcome addiction. We help young mothers find daycare for their children so they can go back to work.”
Chippeaux said the agency’s legacy is “not just the story of our organization — it’s a community story.”
“It’s a testament to the investment, passion and vision of officials in all three counties over the past 60 years,” he said.
Kepplinger, who has just turned 47th year with the agency, has worked under four directors. When he started at Health Solutions in 1976, his boss Chippeaux was just 3 years old.
“Having someone who has been with the organization for over two-thirds of their lifespan is one of the unique traits we have – longevity. Many people have spent decades dedicating their professions to this very special population,” Chippeaux said.
Health Solutions will celebrate its anniversary on September 15 with a reception attended by community leaders. Employees also receive recognition, gifts, cookies and more.
The Pueblo County Commissioners on Thursday designated September 1 as Health Solutions Day in honor of the agency’s 60-year legacy.
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Chief reporter Tracy Harmon covers business news. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at twitter.com/tracywumps.