First lady Ritter sees health care at work on Grand Junction visit

Photo by Gretel DAugherty—Colorado’s first lady Jeannie Ritter admires an acrylic painting by artist and Oasis Clubhouse member Duran Victor, which was presented to the governor’s wife as a gift during her visit Tuesday to the clubhouse, 426 Ouray Ave. Ritter was in town for a fundraiser for the clubhouse, which is part of Colorado West Regional Mental Health Center.

Amid state budget cuts to some health care programs, Colorado’s first lady visited Colorado West Regional Mental Health on Tuesday in support of services offered by the agency.

While in Grand Junction, Jeannie Ritter also attended a fundraiser for the Oasis Clubhouse at 426 Ouray Ave., which is part of Colorado West Regional Mental Health.

Ritter later attended a fundraiser at Marillac Clinic, which offers health care to under-insured and uninsured patients.

Each day about 20 to 25 people gather at the Oasis Clubhouse   for meals and day programs as they see how each other deals with mental illness. Some are from Grand Junction’s Regional Center, which soon will close its skilled-nursing unit, which services 32 patients. The closure is part of Gov. Bill Ritter’s first round of budget cuts and is expected to save the state $2.8 million annually.

“No one institution can handle this,” Jeannie Ritter said after the clubhouse ceremony. “Who else can we bring into this? It’s a great opportunity for what I call collaborative effort.”

Colorado West serves 13,000 patients a year in 10 Colorado counties on the Western Slope.

People with untreated mental illnesses use twice as much health care as those who receive proper health-care and medications, the agency said. Those with mental illnesses stay in local jails up to five times longer than other inmates, and nearly 30 percent of the prison population has a moderate to severe mental-health condition, according to the Colorado Department of Corrections.

According to some mental health clients who spoke Tuesday, having the clubhouse as a gathering space keeps them from isolation and keeps their spirits up.

“I don’t get as stressed out when I’m here,” one client said in a speech. “Without a place to go, I’d end up in a state hospital or the regional center. It’s a peaceful environment. It’s a second home.”

The clubhouse, which was built in 1900, is in need of a number of upgrades. Gaudy red carpeting covers the upstairs rooms, and well-worn linoleum lines the kitchen floor. A new chair lift is needed so some clients can get upstairs. To meet Mesa County Health Department code, the clubhouse is in need of a commercial kitchen range and appliances, and new flooring.

To donate or for more information, call Andrea Richardson at 384-3035 or e-mail her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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