Behavioral health staff at Colo. EMS take on new roles in pandemic

The behavioral health navigators at Eagle County Paramedic Services aided in testing and are preparing to face the pandemic's mental health impact


By Laura French

EDWARDS, Colo. — Community behavioral health navigators at a Colorado EMS have quickly adapted their roles to assist in pandemic response. 

Eagle County Paramedic Services (ECPS) hired Community Behavioral Health Navigators Gladys Villa and Coco Andrade in March under a new outreach program with Vail Health designed to assist high-risk, high-acuity mental health clients. Villa and Andrade are bilingual and their work is focused on educating and empowering patients.

Community Behavioral Health Navigators Coco Andrade (left) and Gladys Villa, of Eagle County Paramedic Services, began helping with COVID-19 testing just a week after they joined the service, and are now preparing to manage the ripple effects of the pandemic on the mental health needs of their community. (Photo/Eagle County Paramedic Services)
Community Behavioral Health Navigators Coco Andrade (left) and Gladys Villa, of Eagle County Paramedic Services, began helping with COVID-19 testing just a week after they joined the service, and are now preparing to manage the ripple effects of the pandemic on the mental health needs of their community. (Photo/Eagle County Paramedic Services)

Just a week after they joined the ECPS team, Andrade and Villa were tasked with applying their skills and community knowledge to help the service and their community grapple with the new and unexpected threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The pair assisted with virus testing on a Mobile Intercultural Resource Alliance (MIRA) bus and at Vail Health's Gypsum COVID-19 Testing Facility, and also accompanied community paramedics on home visits to patients. 

In addition, the behavioral health navigators are preparing to manage the ripple effects of the pandemic on the mental and behavioral health needs of the public. 

"With the uncertainty that COVID-19 has created, mental and behavioral health resources in our community are important now more than ever," said Eagle County Behavioral Health (ECBH) Executive Director Chris Lindley. "Gladys and Coco are tremendous assets and having them provide support to our community members, including the Spanish-speaking community, is vital. The goal of EVBH is to provide our community with behavioral health resources and find solutions to gaps in the system, and the role of the Community Behavioral Health Navigators fills one glaring gap locally." 

The main role of the behavioral health navigators is to reduce barriers to care and work directly with clients to improve mental health outcomes through supportive case management, early intervention and client education and empowerment, explained ECPS Community Paramedic Supervisor Kevin Creek. 

“The Behavioral Health Navigators are not clinicians – they’re not trained to respond to crises or provide therapy – we have resources like the Hope Center and Mind Springs that do a great job with those services,” Creek said. “The Navigators are here to do just that: navigate. They can help you find a therapist, connect you to community resources or support groups and facilitate communication between mental health providers, among other things.”

For example, Andrade and Villa could help someone who under stress from losing their job during the pandemic by connecting them with a therapist, helping them book an appointment or providing other resources, Creek added.

“The Navigators are like the hub of a wheel, directing clients along the various spokes and helping our community navigate the various options,” Creek said.

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