Residents say behavioral health is at the forefront of Yampa Valley’s health problems

Mary Brown puts notes on a topic board during a community member input meeting in March. These member input meetings in spring 2022 were part of the information gathering process for the recently released 2022 Yampa Valley Community Health Needs Assessment.
Suzy Romig/Steamboat Pilot and Today

Mental health is the leading cause of hospitalization in the Yampa Valley, ahead of heart disease, congestive heart failure, diabetes, all injuries and stroke.

So, it makes sense that the top health priority identified in the recently released 2022 Yampa Valley Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) is behavioral health, which encompasses mental health.

“Using three-year combined projections from 2018 to 2020, mental health is the number one cause of hospitalization, followed by heart disease, in the region,” the CHNA report noted.

Mental health hospitalization rates were significantly higher in Moffat County at 3,273 per 100,000 residents compared to 2,352 in the region and 2,837 per 100,000 across Colorado, the report noted.

Survey respondents said the four worst health problems in the Yampa Valley are related to behavioral health, including drug or substance use, misuse and abuse (67% of respondents), poor mental health (52%), suicide and suicidality (50%). and social isolation (21%). Of greatest concern to community members are opioids (68%), alcohol (56%), amphetamines (49%) and methamphetamines (45%).

“None of the information shared at CHNA was truly surprising. It validates the experiences of Yampa Valley residents and providers,” said Brittany Wilburn, executive director of the nonprofit The Health Partnership, a lead partner in the study.

“My understanding is that COVID has compounded the issues,” Wilburn said. “I think what we do in the next three years will show the impact that COVID has had historically. There has been an increase in providers and individuals specifically experiencing access to mental health services.

Mental health is a concern for both adults and youth in the Yampa Valley. For example, the Healthy Kids Colorado survey Statistics show that the number of high school students experiencing symptoms of depression in the region increased significantly between 2015 and 2019 to 31.5%, up from 23.3% previously.

Wilburn said that many Valley residents have additional mental health needs “we find ourselves in a sad situation.”

“The medical and behavioral health providers needed to do this work can’t stay here and provide the services that are needed in our community,” Wilburn said. “We have to be creative in figuring out how to meet the medical and behavioral needs of the community.”

The recently released 2022 Yampa Valley Community Health Needs Assessment included community input meetings, community survey results, public health data and socioeconomic data.
Health Share / Courtesy photo

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines behavioral health as the promotion of emotional health, prevention of mental illness and substance use disorders, and treatment and services for mental and/or substance use disorders.

Wilburn said she found the connection between behavioral health and chronic conditions “really interesting.”

“Many relationships exist between behavioral health and other chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, asthma and arthritis, so while prioritizing behavioral health, the Yampa Valley will also address the prevalence of chronic disease,” the report states.

The second rated health priority defined in the assessment is access to culturally and linguistically responsive care.

“The challenge of accessing care that is culturally and linguistically responsive and not having adequate providers is heightened for populations with language and/or cultural barriers to care in the Yampa Valley,” the report noted. For example, members of the Latinx or Hispanic community comment that “providers complain to them or take too long during visits.”

“This is an underlying issue of health equity. It’s critical that everyone in the community has access to high-quality, respectful care,” Wilburn said.

The report also highlights some of the key priority drivers of health that come as no surprise, such as the fact that food is more expensive in the region, housing costs are pricing people out and hard-wage jobs are hard to find. The report states that some residents find it difficult to meet basic needs as public transport is not available in all areas of the valley.

The Community Health Needs Assessment provides an opportunity for public health agencies, hospitals, community health centers and other key partners to identify health priorities and assist the Yampa Valley in program planning and resource allocation for the next three to five years. Partner agencies will use the assessment data, including Northwest Colorado Health, UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center, Routt County Public Health, United Way and Craigma Memorial Regional Health.

For this year’s CHNA report, which is completed every three years, a robust sample of 1,167 community members responded to the survey. The report also identified preventable or unintentional injuries as cancer, chronic disease, and other community concerns.

The CHNA study was conducted from November 2021 to June 2022 and included community input meetings, community survey results, public health data and socio-economic data. The report was prepared by Health Management Associates in Denver.

The full report is posted online at

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