When Mind Springs Health announced it had chosen a new CEO, officials in Summit County were hesitant to become too hopeful.
Two Summit County elected officials — County Commissioner Tamara Pogue and Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons — are outspoken advocates about their passion for accessible mental health — and about their frustration with Mind Springs’ operations during the past few years.
This has led to discussion, and at points, action toward cutting ties with Mind Springs altogether.
However, Summit County can’t cut ties with the company yet. Pogue said this is because Mind Springs is the behavioral health hospital in the state-designated “catchment” area Summit County is located in. This means Summit County residents that are in crisis are directed to Mind Springs facilities for treatment.
Therefore, until Summit County can adjust their catchment area to the newly established Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, the county is still reliant on Mind Springs’ care. In response, officials have curated a number of different programs to keep access to behavioral health care local and to give residents more options than just Mind Springs.
However, new CEO John Sheehan hopes to add potential to the embattled company.
When Sheehan joined the behavioral health field, it was a family decision. Sheehan’s mother was a behavioral health nurse practitioner. She was so successful that at one point in her career, Sheehan said his mother became the head of the Nurse Practitioner’s Association.
By the time he was 18, his mother had encouraged him to start working at the hospital. He started by answering phones. Then he became a psychiatric technician. A psychiatric technician is someone who works in a behavioral health hospital that cares for patients who have mental illness or a developmental disability.
He continued work in an inpatient setting, meaning he worked one-on-one with patients in behavioral health hospitals. Eventually, Sheehan said he moved on to becoming a code team leader, and then he moved to the administrative realm of behavioral health, where he learned how to write grants and direct federal funds.
“I learned about how the federal system impacts the state Medicaid systems — how the money flows, how program models are developed and how states have different approaches,” Sheehan said.
Sheehan began work at what he said was a “multibillion” dollar health system, BayCare Health System, in an administrative role. He was in charge of all the inpatient care over six counties, of which there were 300 beds and four psychiatric emergency rooms, which is similar in size but smaller than Mind Springs’ reach across the Western Slope.
In addition, Sheehan worked with over six different leadership teams that oversaw services within each of their locations.
When asked why Sheehan was chosen, Stefan Bates, the President of the Mind Springs Board, said his experience with wide-reaching behavioral health companies set him apart.
“We have an outpatient program that covers 10 counties in Western Colorado,” said Bates. “So diverse geography, diverse communities, different communities with different needs. … So he really was kind of a unicorn for us, someone that had all of these different expertise and competencies in all of the places that we need,” he said.
After BayCare, Sheehan decided to move on to consulting. Then, he was contacted by the job he held before Mind Springs at Rochester Regional Health Information Organization in Rochester, New York. They asked him to join with a focus on behavioral health technology.
“I wasn’t quite ready to start looking for that next big job,” Sheehan said. “But I wanted to sort of explore Health IT.”
His interests lie in a type of software that allows health care providers to share data. Sheehan said the system can help hospitals to increase interoperability and “can help us navigate patients more efficiently.”
So when the Mind Springs board reached out to him about the CEO position, Sheehan said he was excited about what he could technologically offer Mind Springs.
Sheehan’s experience is timely after Colorado News Collaborative reported on whistleblowers who said they falsified patient records. The whistleblowers claimed they were told to falsify the records by diagnosing patients with disorders they didn’t have, to bring high-priced Medicaid-funded treatment to Mind Springs — funding Sheehan has navigated and overseen throughout his career.
His passion extends beyond tech. Sheehan said his real passion is working with patients, which he said is why the Mind Springs position was so perfect for where he is in his career.
Sheehan said part of the grant funding he helped Rochester Regional Health apply for required a focus on the social determinants of health, which he said he believes is possible in Colorado, too.
Sheehan said normally hospitals have a health information exchange, but this system harnesses the effectiveness of social determinants of health and gives behavioral health systems data that would inform them on how to best care for patients outside of the hospital.
“When you get to the parking lot of the hospital, right, what are the social determinants of health? Well, it’s food insecurity, it’s housing, it’s transportation, it’s jobs, and it’s behavioral health,” Sheehan said.
He added that his experience in the past year has prepared him to arrive at Mind Springs with an innovative perspective on how to help the company become good at what they do “by connecting with the larger system and shining light on social determinants of health and providing better access and better outcomes to patients.”
Sheehan said he wants to be there for communities that rely on Mind Springs.
“I’m not in my 20s anymore, so I’d like this to be my last job. I’m committed to long term,” he said. ”I’m very excited about being in Colorado, and I’m really excited about what we can do at Mind Springs.”
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