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A plan to meet big city health challenges in rural Colorado
 
Photo courtesy: Health.Solutions
 

By Ernest Gurulé
News@lavozcolorado.com
 
09/15/2021

There may once have been a myth that small towns were idyllic, escapes from the stress of bigger cities. But if you ask Jason Chippeaux, that’s never been true. In the 21st century, he said, the reality is that rural America has the same challenges---emotional and physical---as the biggest urban centers, just on a smaller and oftentimes quieter scale. The challenge, he said, is also growing by the day.

Chippeaux, CEO of Pueblo’s Health Solutions, a medical and mental health treatment provider, knows intimately the struggles of his own town but also those of rural southern Colorado, an area as large and, perhaps, even larger than a few U.S. states. Besides Pueblo, where it has several clinics, Health Solutions also has offices in Walsenburg and Trinidad.

The issues he and his staff deal with are no different than what healthcare professionals deal with anywhere in the country. The numbers, he said, are proof.  “We’ve more than doubled our service delivery system over the last nine or ten years,” he said in a recent interview. Still, despite the work of his agency and others like it, there is always a need for more and oftentimes, an urgent need, said the 25-year social services veteran,

The Pueblo-based Health Solutions, said Chippeaux, has staff counselling and providing services to individuals of all ages. Their struggles, he said, are universal. “We have school-based services for youth and family…a crisis service center…we offer psychiatric services, and we also have a full substance service,” he said.

Clients can receive services that include youth and family therapy, emergency crisis services, early childhood services, family medicine, immunization and more. It is a full-service, whole person healthcare provider.

“Our client list tends to be close in the male-female category,” he said. “The bulk is youth and family and adult services.” But also seeking help, said Chippeaux, is a growing geriatric component. “They bring all the issues that everyone brings,” he said. Their struggles also include “a different complexity.” The aging process has left some “struggling with dementia and depression,” he said. Add to that, “are the chronic physical conditions” brought on by aging.

The isolation of living in a rural environment can exacerbate problems, especially among younger people. Anxiety and depression are not uncommon in the young people who visit Health Solution’s Walsenburg and Trinidad centers. These are not just matters that can be ascribed to something as simple as the ‘blues.’ Youth suicide in places most Coloradans couldn’t find without GPS is a reality. It might not be expected, said Chippeaux, but it is a fact of life.

“We’re actually seeing it across the state,” he said. Colorado’s youth suicide, said Chippeaux, has climbed into a “higher threshold.” Health Services, he said, now has “a whole department that focused on suicide prevention.”

Research by the National Institute for Health showed a dramatic jump in young adult and teen suicides in rural America over the past decade. It now ranks suicide in these two groups as the second leading cause of death and particularly serious among minority youth. Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming are listed in the top five states with the highest overall adult and youth suicide rates. The study called for more mental health facilities to address this problem.

“Were doing a lot of programming in schools and community,” said Chippeaux. “We try and hit it from multiple angles,” including working with local law enforcement.

In an ideal world, Chippeaux would like to see mental health elevated to the same status as physical health. While there is an obvious difference between a broken arm and depression, both deserve to be treated with the same care and attention. “It’s a healthcare issue,” he said.

Chippeaux said it’s not hard to connect the dots between substance abuse disorders, a plague no longer uncommon in smaller communities, with things like anxiety and depression. Substance abuse, he explained, is not simply illicit drugs but also prescription drugs for things like anxiety, for aiding sleep or eating disorders. “It’s becoming a real problem that negatively impacts multiple elements of someone’s life.”

Chippeaux said he’s planning a multi-county “listening tour.” The tour is both to speak and listen to communities in Pueblo, Huerfano and Las Animas counties. “I want to talk about how things are going on the ground, what needs to be done.” The tour will set in motion work on training, resources and any new approaches to service that needs to be done.

For more information, visit health.solutions or call 719-545-2746.

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