Cliff Moers, Director of the Colorado Commission for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing, receives the community Champion Award at the Gifts of Hope Fundraising Breakfast.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Services
THE MENTAL HEALTH CENTER OF DENVER is the only community mental health center in Colorado that has a specialized program for people who are deaf and hard of hearing. We are recognized nationally for our expertise in serving this population, and this year marked the program’s 30th anniversary.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing services was established in 1987 in response to the community’s expressed need for services provided in American Sign Language (ASL).
“The imperative was to establish bilingual and bicultural mental health services so that deaf and hard of hearing Coloradans could access direct services in their preferred language,” said Program Manager of Deaf and Hard of Hearing services Mary Sterritt, MSW, LCSW, who has worked at the Mental Health Center of Denver since 1994. “We value a person’s communication preference.”
It is estimated that only 3% of individuals who are deaf and hard of hearing and in need of any kind of behavioral health services in Colorado receive them. In contrast, about 27% of the hearing population in need of services specifically for severe behavioral health needs gets help.
“There’s a big gap in services,” Mary said. “However, over the past 30 years, we have been able to serve hundreds of people that otherwise would not have had access to services, and we continue to look for ways to bridge this gap throughout Colorado.”
Last year, we served about 80 individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as family members. Deaf, hard of hearing and hearing individuals make up our team and include a program manager, administrative assistant, clinical case manager, ASL interpreter, therapists, interns and peer mentors.
We provide individual, family and group therapy, as well as case management and psychiatry services for individuals across the lifespan. In addition, we connect the people we serve with employment and education assistance at 2succeed, housing through residential services, group therapy at the Recovery Center, items of need from two resource centers, well-being classes and more. We also coordinate care with other providers and schools, provide psychoeducation and offer telebehavioral health services within Colorado.
As is the case with many special populations, the delivery of accessible services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community is more expensive than to the general population.
“The Mental Health Center of Denver demonstrates the value that deaf and hard of hearing Coloradans have the right to the same culturally affirming and linguistically accessible services and outcomes as Colorado’s general population” Mary said.
A National Leader
We also collaborate with other leaders in behavioral health and deafness to promote access. The Colorado Daylight Partnership, a collaborative effort lead by the Mental Health Center of Denver and the Colorado Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, is designed to assist Colorado’s publicly funded community mental health centers and substance use treatment providers with advancing access to behavioral health services to deaf and hard of hearing Coloradans.
In addition, the Mental Health Center of Denver has received a grant to research, design and implement a best practice approach to integrating behavioral health and primary care for deaf and hard of hearing individuals in metro Denver.
“We don’t know what this will look like yet. We’re currently doing a lot of research and surveying the community,” Mary said. “We strongly believe that it is essential that deaf and hard of hearing individuals receiving services are involved in the design, piloting and implementation of these services.”