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Axis and Center for Mental Health complete merger

Axis Health System has completed a merger with The Center for Mental Health. The combined 11 clinics across the Western Slope will be under the Axis name. (Courtesy photo)
Partnership expands Axis Health System’ service area to 11 counties on Western Slope

Axis Health System and the Center for Mental Health have completed a merger that will expand operations, according to an announcement July 5.

The Center for Mental Health, which has locations in Montrose, Delta, Gunnison, Hinsdale, San Miguel and Ouray counties, will operate as Axis Health System with no disruption to services or location, according to a news release.

Axis already serves La Plata, San Juan, Dolores, Archuleta and Montezuma counties, and now will have facilities in 11 Colorado counties with more than 400 staff.

Axis provides integrated health services that include primary care, pharmacy, oral health and behavioral health. They will remain headquartered in Durango. Staff will remain at the various clinics.

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As a result of the merger, the nonprofit health organization is projected to serve more than 18,000 people across the region per year, up from 13,000 per year before the merger, said Axis spokeswoman Haley Leonard Saunders.

The two organizations have been partners in providing health services and training for 22 years, she said.

“We’ve added more expertise to our team and have worked together for so long this made sense,” Saunders said. “By combining organizations, we are able to expand patient services and realize systematic improvements.”

The merger provides efficiencies and improved access to services for patients.

“We believe we can leverage the larger staff and technology to have a greater impact on our patients’ health and quality of life,” said Shelly J. Spalding, former CEO of the Center for Mental Health. The merger creates the opportunity to work within our communities with different resources while continuing to look for creative solutions and partnerships to close gaps.”

Axis CEO Shelly Burke will continue in the leadership role for the merged operations. Spalding will serve as Axis president.

“Health care delivery has to evolve with the changing needs of the industry and our communities. This merger allows us to come together to build a stronger, more resilient health care system,” Burke stated. “Our mission is to make a meaningful difference in the lives of our patients, and scale is one tool we can use to continue to advance affordable, accessible quality care.”

Dentist Kristine Hynes shows an exam room during a tour of Axis Health System’s Oral Health Clinic. Hynes is the dental director of the new clinic, which will open July 18 in the Commons Building at 701 Camino del Rio, Suite 316. Clinic hours will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call (970) 335-2442 for an appointment.

The 12-person Axis board now includes members from both organizations’ respective boards, bringing an array of experience and a broad understanding of the combined service area.

The merger has created additional employment opportunities at Axis, and Saunders said jobs are available across the expanded service area. Open positions include front desk, management, front line jobs, health care workers, therapists, outreach specialists, case managers, and a behavioral health professional for the Montezuma County Community Intervention Program.

Current patients will not see a disruption in their care or changes to their preferred clinic location because of the merger.

For more information, job postings, and Frequently Asked Questions, visit the Axis Health System website at www.axishealthsystem.org.

Community Intervention Program

This year in Montezuma County, Axis Health spearheaded the Community Intervention Program in partnership with the county, Cortez, Mancos, Dolores and the Cortez Fire Protection District.

The program is off to a “strong start assisting people” in noncriminal social and behavioral problems, Saunders said.

A sunbeam crosses EMTs Quinn Deffenbaugh, Al Brokofsky and social worker Charlee Sharp, who will respond to social welfare calls as part the new Montezuma County Community Intervention Program. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)

The new emergency public service deploys a nondescript white van with EMTs and an Axis social worker to provide assistance for people who struggle with a mental health issue, alcohol or drug addiction, suicidal ideation, overdose, homelessness, hunger, illness or injury or a personal or family crisis.

Since it began May 2, there have been more than 100 contacts and follow-up visits. The team has responded to calls in Cortez, Dolores, Mancos and in the county. The program plans to hire another behavioral health specialist to keep up with the demand for the service, Saunders said.

CIP clients are provided with EMT care, provided mental health assistance, and given information about local resources to help them. There is no charge.

The program was established as a new Montezuma County department to address the growing issue of social welfare problems, drug and alcohol addiction, and homelessness in the community. The costs are shared by the county, Cortez, Mancos and Dolores.

Startup costs are about $408,000 for the first year and part of the second year. The program is initially paid for by American Rescue Plan Act funding – federal aid awarded to the county and area towns to aid post-pandemic recovery.

Using ARPA funds, the county paid $292,000, Cortez paid $177,000, Mancos paid 32,000 and Dolores $18,500 toward the program.

Funding after the first year will come from state and federal grants, along with community fundraising efforts, Saunders said.