Janey Sorenson has a soft voice and a big laugh. She also has a big job. As marketing director for the six county Center for Mental Health, she can answer, off hand, any question, length and breadth, without notes, about the organization. But for Sorenson it is time to step back and enjoy other aspects of her life. In January she will begin working in the office just 10-12 hours per week.
Born and raised in rural Utah, at 7,800 feet, she lived on a ranch where it took an hour and twenty minutes to get to school. Her paternal grandfather owned part of the ground that is now Capital Reef.
In 1986, Sorenson arrived in Colorado with her four children, following a divorce, and took a job as a legal secretary. This began a journey where Sorenson gained experience and insight into her own values.
Eventually she left the law office. “I stopped working in law because I didn’t see any correlation between law and justice. I saw people who couldn’t afford a good lawyer and those who could and there was such a difference. It just didn’t feel right to me.”
Her next move suited her better, in charge of communication and public relations for DMEA and learning grant writing. After eight years, Sorenson moved to the CMH and has been there 11 years.
“I have a team and we do social media on all platforms. All print media, all forms of communications for the Center.” They do their own design work, the printing. They have booths at area-wide events. “We have some partnerships and we do the marketing for them as well,” she said.
Heather Darbe is the team member who is in charge of suicide prevention training and provides those resources in the six-county region. “She is kind of the face of the Center out in the community,” Sorenson said. “She does a wonderful job.”
Sorenson says she is thrilled about the latest news from the Center. CMH is in the process of building an overnight crisis clinic in downtown Montrose.
They started grant writing for it last spring and the clinic is expected to open by the middle of March. There’ll be eight beds and four recliners.
“In the past when we had someone who needed inpatient hospitalization to become stable, we’ve had to arrange for transportation out of the region to get people to the care they needed, and that would require police officer involvement.” Psychiatric patients were being housed in the jail, even if they had not committed a crime, because it was the only safe place for them. Mentally ill people were being held in hospital emergency departments, at great cost to the hospital. So, for 53 years there was no answer to this problem, and but they’re finally creating one.
“The state of Colorado came in and our executive director and the sheriff of Delta County testified in front of the legislature. They said—people are being held in jails. If you have a crisis, law enforcement will come, they’ll put you in handcuffs. It’s not a kind way to treat people whose only crime is mental illness,” Sorenson said.
A concern for justice remained a part of Sorenson’s life, even after she left the law office. “I find non-profit work enriching,” she said. “The for-profit thing escapes me a little bit. I think that’s why the legal system felt so out-of-whack for me.”
She has four grown kids and 14 grandchildren. She describes herself as a rancher, mother and grandmother.
“I thrive on change and opportunity,” she said.
Everyone in her family was a rancher for many generations back. Her parents died quite suddenly, and left the ranch to the children. She and her sister bought the brothers out and “we’re these old dolls out there.”
“Out west of Olathe, we have horses and mama cows and a little bit of high country where we take them in the summertime.We get a lot of joy from them. We have a big garden, have some chickens, and we raise our own feed.”
“That’s why this step down in my job is going to be so fun for me; I can write grants and go out and feed chickens, and write grants and go out and throw the feed for the calves, go change the water. In the past we’ve had to hire all that out so it’s been more difficult to embrace the things that we’re an important part of my life, working 40 hours a week.
Her sister lives outside of Denver, but she has a home near Olathe. “We spend a lot of time together. We do a lot of canning and a lot of gardening.”
She has done a big job, really well. Does she feel good about it, looking back?
“I know that through even my small efforts,” she said, “I’ve helped make a difference in people’s lives.”
Sorenson explains the origin and makeup of the Center.
The Center for Mental Health is a non-profit. It was created out of last act signed into law by Pres. Kennedy. That law helped bring people who were in in-patient facilities for mental health issues back into their communities.
The State of Colorado set up 17 community mental health centers. The state is carved up into what we call “catchment” areas. The Center for Mental Health covers the same six counties as Region 10 (Montrose, Delta, Ouray, San Miguel, Hinsdale and Gunnison).
We have a contract with the state to provide all the mental health needs for those on Medicaid. We have gone beyond what we have been tasked with and we serve everyone.
We offer a sliding fee scale for those who don’t have the means to pay for their care. We do all mental health issues as well as substance issues.
Eight of the 17 locations are clinics. We are integrated into other institutions like primary care. We have a therapists in all the jails in the region, in Health and Human Services,several doctor’s offices, the pediatric clinic,school based heath centers.
We have found we are more effective when we meet people where they are.We found there is a big failure rate when people are referred to the Mental Health Center.
We offer a 24-hour crisis care so if someone if experiencing a behavioral crisis any time of the day of night, we have on-call clinicians who respond.