‘Ay yi yi’ Portigal retires from Mind Springs Health after 40 years | SteamboatToday.com

‘Ay yi yi’ Portigal retires from Mind Springs Health after 40 years

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — There is a long list of things that Gina Toothaker is going to miss when longtime senior clinician and clinical supervisor Carla Portigal leaves Mind Springs Health in Steamboat Springs at the end of the month.

Topping the list is her experience, her knowledge and the way she has mentored the Mind Springs staff for more than 40 years. But also gone will be her relaxed manners, her terrific sense of humor, and of course, the phrase, “ay yi yi.”

"You know Carla is around when you hear, ‘aye yi yi’ coming from her office," said Toothaker, who is the program director at Mind Springs Health. "You would kind of know how bad it was by counting how many ay yi yis followed."

Toothaker said Portigal has touched the lives of thousands of clients and their families in Routt County since moving here in 1977. This is where Portigal lived her life, raised her two adopted children and inspired generations of therapists to come to Steamboat to provide much needed services. 

Portigal played a huge role, although she is quick to point out that she did not do it herself, in the creation of organizations like Advocates Building Peaceful Communities, United Way of Routt County and the Human Resource Coalition. She even helped get Har Mispachat, the Jewish community organization in Steamboat Springs, started.

During her decades of service, Portigal organized programs for adolescents, a population she believes is underserved, and worked with the courts in high-conflict divorce cases. She said she was also proud of helping first responders as part of the Timberline debriefing team that helped in cases of loss and trauma.

Recommended Stories For You

"I think that it is very hard for people in paradise to see the pain that exists here," Portigal said. "I wanted to educate the community that there is violence and sexual abuse. It was very hard, but it was really important."

Much of her work has been helping the clients that come through the doors of Mind Springs Health.

"When I started, like many people in this field, I had this idea that I was going to change something big," Portigal said. "I came here, and because my passion is clinical work, doing therapy with individuals and families, I really feel like my impact has been with people."

Portigal has served as administrator, quality improvement coordinator, trainer and clinical supervisor, but the role she loved most was being a clinician and working with groups, individuals, families and couples.

"Some of those people will call me 10 years later and say, 'You know you changed my life,'” Portigal said. "There is something really incredible about knowing that you do that."

She grew up in Los Angeles, moved to Denver as a young woman and graduated with a master of social work from the University of Denver. She eventually moved to Steamboat with her husband, adopted two children and raising a family here. Her oldest daughter Danya Gunnell graduated from Steamboat in 1999 and her youngest child Cameron Gunnell graduated in 2008. 

"I love working with people, and I'm a real advocate for psychotherapy," she said. "It's a very powerful process that a lot of people don't know about. People come here because they are in pain, and we have a culture where relationships are incredibly hard, and people don't know how to do relationships."

Portigal will continue to help people through her private practice and she teach the next generation of social workers as a teacher at the Western Graduate School of Social Work program in Glenwood Springs. 

"I have a special role here as the mentor and as the person with the most experience as a therapist, and so I will miss that,” Portigal said of her retirement from Mind Springs. 

An open house in honor of Portigal’s retirement will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. March 30 in Bud Werner Memorial Library’s Library Hall.

"I will miss the things that she provides day to day,” Toothaker said. “She is a wealth of knowledge and experience. She provides leadership, stability and support to our team — and all of our team not just the clinical staff, but everyone for the business staff to the medical team and her directors.

“She is a great listening ear, she brings humor to this office, she is hysterically funny and I will miss it when she gives you that sympathetic ‘ay yi yi.’"

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.