by Tracy Harmon, originally published for the Pueblo Chieftain
Healing the whole patient — body and mind — is the goal of two nurse practitioners who are embarking on a new certification program so they can help address their patients’ mental health needs.
Alecia Kielas of Pueblo West and Amy Leibli of Canon City hope to help their family practice patients who are experiencing mental health crises that are especially evident during the coronavirus pandemic. Both women are taking advantage of the United Health Foundation’s grant funds, which total $1.5 million to help the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence support Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner training and similar training for registered nurses.
“Colorado has the third-highest rate of mental illness in the country, according to a report by Mental Health America. The report indicates Colorado’s need is especially felt in rural areas where the average suicide rate is 40 percent higher compared to statewide statistics,” according to a press release.
Both Kielas and Leibli will have their certification paid for by the grant. In return, they will commit to providing behavioral health care services for a minimum of two years in a rural area.
Kielas has worked the past two years as a nurse practitioner for Dr. Marcus Button in Canon City, who has a family practice.
“I was thinking about going back to school and this suited my goal and passion of integrating mental health in more of an expanded scope,” Kielas said. “I have seen definite uneasiness during the pandemic and it is kids, adolescents and adults — especially those patients that are already struggling with mental health issues.”
Kielas will start classes in August and finish up next year.
“The psychiatric nurse practitioner certification will enhance what I do already. I plan to stay where I am and I will be able to help the whole person,” Kielas said.
She said the clinic already serves a large portion of Canon City and even some patients who have moved to Pueblo and Pueblo West but continue to travel back to Canon City for their health care.
Leibli works at Valley Wide Health Systems primary care facility in Canon City where licensed clinical social workers are on staff but “no one is able to prescribe specific behavioral health medicines. Many times if falls upon primary care physicians to diagnose and treat depression and anxiety,” she said.
Although she already has a doctorate of nursing practice degree, she decided to go back and get the psychiatric certification because “I see more and more need and I wanted to have that knowledge to be able to help patients as much as I can. It is amazing how much I have learned so far,” Leibli said.
Leibli should wrap up her classes through Regis by the end of December. She said she has a passion for working in rural areas, where “I’ve really seen a lot more need.”
The coronavirus pandemic has “really pushed some people over the edge. A lot of them have a hard time with the isolation or their anxiety is heightened with a mask over their face,” she said.
As a wife and mother, Leibli said she would not have been able to afford to go back to school without the United Health Foundation grant.
“It is $6,500 a semester and it would have been close to $20,000 by the time I finished. I couldn’t have done that on top of the debt I already have from getting the doctorate.”
Leibli, who grew up in Iowa, fell in love with Colorado when she spent summers at her grandparents’ Creede cabin. She explained that working in Colorado is ideal for her as the state “is one of the best for allowing nurse practitioners to practice to their fullest,” she said.