ELKO – Local behavioral health services have been awarded $3.4 million from the City of Elko’s American Rescue Plan Act money.
Three local healthcare providers received ARPA grants on Feb. 8 from the Elko City Council to expand behavioral health services, which voted unanimously for the package.
Nevada Health Centers, Vitality Center and Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital received a portion of the city’s $27.5 million ARPA funding that addresses the economic and health consequences of the pandemic.
“During the ARPA public hearings, Council recognized the negative behavioral health impacts on the community as a result of Covid-19,” the city stated in its agenda. “Staff recommends awarding grants to organizations committed to promote and expand behavioral health services in the City of Elko.”
Nevada Health Centers received $1,913,805 for the Elko site’s behavioral health expansion.
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Vitality Center received $1.025 million for two areas of its services. About $878,000 will increase behavioral health and addiction treatment and increase mobile and crisis response. Another $147,000 will go toward pandemic resilience.
In its application in October, Vitality Center cited increased mental health calls and visits between 2019 and 2020. They asked for $1.5 million to cover additional staffing, vehicle maintenance, building maintenance, and purchasing a women’s residence.
Northeastern Nevada Regional Hospital was the third recipient and awarded $500,000 for its 2022 behavioral health initiative.
Councilman Chip Stone said there was a need for more behavioral health services, which “is not going to get any smaller, it’s just going to grow and grow with the things that are happening. I’m really grateful for this.”
City Manager Curtis Calder said the selection process for this and previous disbursements involved an internal review of applications by a committee including Calder, Financial Services Director Jan Baum and City Clerk Kelly Wooldridge.
“We’re looking very closely at all of these,” he explained. “We’re not rubber-stamping everything that is coming through, and every recommendation we’re making for approval is something that is clearly eligible under ARPA. So if it is ever scrutinized in the future, the City of Elko will be in the clear.”
Another factor the committee considers is which projects will benefit the community in the long term, as stipulated in the ARPA guidance for disbursement. The behavioral health package stood out under those guidelines, Calder said.
“I can’t think of anything more important than this that was in our applications,” he said. “I’m hoping this will really change the future of our community.”
“There’s a lot of good projects out there,” Calder continued, “but with as much money as we received, it’s still not enough to fund every single thing in the community.”
Grant recipients have until Dec. 31, 2026, to apply for the funding.
When the city council convenes next week there will be additional recommendations for ARPA grant funding, including the Elko County Recreation Board’s contribution, according to Baum.
Steven Bratman, representing Nevada Health Centers, said the funding would build behavioral health services. He explained that the 20-year-old community health organization was trying to recruit new licensed clinical social workers and licensed mental health professionals to Elko and expand its case management to join the medical, dental and telemedicine services.
“Additionally, we’re looking at expanding the reach for psychiatry services, something we know the Elko community is deprived,” Bratman said, calling the overall plan “ambitious.”
“Elko is going to be one of our flagship hubs for Nevada Health Centers, and that requires a comprehensive package of all the service lines that Nevada Health Centers offers,” he continued. “We want Elko to look as comprehensive as any of our flagship hubs, such as our Las Vegas office and Carson City office.”
Ester Quilici, CEO of Vitality Center, told the city council that the center is “squeezed” for space, and the grant funds would help their dilemma.
“We’re looking for office space because we need to expand,” Quilici said. Vitality also has plans to purchase a van and customize it as a mobile therapy office with telehealth capabilities.
“If you can’t come to us, we’ll come to you,” she continued, adding Vitality has already provided services at the homeless camp and partnered with the Elko Police Department.
“That is a part of Elko that has to be addressed, and we are very willing to do that with our crisis mobile response,” Quilici said.
The second part of the grant will go toward pandemic resilience to renovate the current Vitality location. Plans call for HVAC upgrades, purchasing a new walk-in refrigerator/freezer for food storage, installing energy-efficient lighting and windows for the therapy environment, and landscaping for outdoor therapy, Quilici said.
“We have the opportunity to expand what we do, partner with others to provide additional services, and we have the opportunity to go outside the city limits now,” she said.
The third part of Vitality’s proposal for a women’s residence could return to the city council for approval, said councilwoman Mandy Simons.
Steve Simpson, the administrator at Northern Nevada Regional Hospital, said its grant would reopen the in-patient psychiatric unit that closed in 2016, a move that has resulted in a “significant cost outlay” for patients who are relocated elsewhere for mental health care.
“Getting people placed for us has actually not been as big of a challenge,” Simpson said. “It is the significant expense that it is to the individual patient, inability to have family close by for support, and the cost to come back.”
Simpson said it had been a “high-priority” to reinstate the 16-bed in-patient unit. He said there would be recruitment expenses but not “a lot of capital outlay” to get it operating again. There are also plans to build an “intensive out-patient therapy” unit.
He also called for “collective conversations” among the other grant recipients so “we’re not duplicating efforts and ensuring we’re using funds appropriately so that we’re not stepping on each other’s toes.”
“There are some areas it will be great to have multiple options, but I think there are opportunities to collectively work together in driving this project,” Simpson said.