Treating Serious Mental Illness at WellPower

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As one of Colorado’s 17 Community Mental Health Centers (CHMC), WellPower (WellPower) exists to serve people who have severe and persistent mental illness. As the largest city in the Rocky Mountain region, Denver is home to a significant number of individuals with complicated diagnoses –schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, major depressive disorder, personality disorders, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders and PTSD — which are often compounded by substance use disorders. As a result, they often experience challenging circumstances in their lives including limited employability, unstable housing and involvement with the criminal justice system.

To meet people where they are, our Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams seek people out in the community. These compassionate and skilled professionals connect with each individual, help them gain access to resources and create stability in their lives that lead them to a path of recovery. This stability comes through a range of services including therapy, medication management, stable housing support, transportation assistance, primary care, education and employment opportunities. These services are designed to work collaboratively so that the whole person is treated, not just a mental health diagnosis.

Programs for Those Experiencing the Most Serious and Persistent Mental Illness
Our teams provide a continuum of care for the people we serve that is adjusted based on the individual needs of each person. Those experiencing the most serious and persistent mental illness often have a co-occurring substance use disorder and frequent encounters with the criminal justice system. We have extensive programs that serve this population, including: 

  • Behavioral Health Solutions Center (BHSC) serves people with high needs whom first responders and police encounter on the street. They are often experiencing homelessness and behavioral health crisis. After being triaged at the BHSC, they can stay five days in in the crisis stabilization clinic and then up to an additional 30 days in a transitional shelter floor, all in the same facility.
  • PHASE: a stabilization program that helps people complete the requirements of their probation or parole while engaging in behavioral health services.
  • Co-responder program: responds to 911 calls that involve a mental health component. When police were responding to these calls by themselves before this program launched, 98% resulted in arrests; now it is down to only 2% resulting in arrests.
  • STAR program: an additional service option for 911 calls that focuses on mental health and substance use crises and other concerns such as homelessness and trespassing. When a call is routed to STAR by 911, the operator sends a licensed behavioral health professional and a paramedic to the person in distress. No law enforcement is involved unless the STAR team requests police backup.  
  • Sanderson apartments helps people who are caught in a homelessness-jail cycle stabilize through housing assistance and intensive services. The 61-bed permanent supportive housing community specializes in trauma-informed architecture and services, providing wraparound care for residents.

Behavioral health services are affected by many other aspects of civic life, including the system of laws and policies that serve as the legal framework for this field. One notable example is the impact of commitment laws, which very frequently influence the ability of providers like WellPower to offer care to someone who is experiencing acute mental illness and refuses treatment. These laws regulate situations in which mental health treatment is mandated by court order; there are many people who are experiencing serious mental health challenges and refuse treatment, yet do not meet criteria for mandated treatment.

“We at WellPower try our best to avoid involuntary treatment,” said Steve Fisher, Director of Clinical Services. “We will pursue involuntary treatment only when it appears it is the only way a person who is at imminent risk of harming themselves or others or is gravely disabled due to their mental illness will engage in treatment.”

“We live in a society where people and our laws value civil liberties; people have the right to choose to be in treatment or to not be in treatment,” Steve further commented. “The people we serve are the experts on their lives. We cannot will another person well, we can only help create the conditions, environment and opportunities for a person to be well. Our ultimate goal is to give people the opportunity to recover, build resiliency and create a lifestyle of well-being. What typically creates that outcome is individual motivation, hope and voluntary engagement in treatment.”

Our values at WellPower are to offer every person every opportunity possible to recover and live meaningful lives. We strive to help people stay in the community and be supported in reaching their goals. This support – whether mental health treatment or services that address other aspects of people’s well-being – is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor; it is highly individualized and centered on the strengths, needs and aspirations of every person who comes to us for care.