Budget request for mental health treatment jumps

DENVER — A Joint Budget Committee staffer dropped somewhat of a bomb on state human services officials last week, recommending almost double what they had requested for a special mental health program.

That program was part of a package of initiatives Gov. John Hickenlooper had called for before the 2012 session began in response to the recent mass shootings at an Aurora movie theater and elsewhere in the nation that don’t include gun restrictions.

Instead, that package centered on increased funding for mental health programs. One of those programs includes a behavioral health crisis response system.

The Colorado Department of Human Services asked for a little more than $10 million to implement the program. But Kevin Neimond, the Joint Budget Committee staffer who handles budget requests from that department, said he didn’t believe that was enough. He recommended they spend twice as much.

Currently, troublesome mental health patients end up in county jails primarily because there isn’t enough bed space in mental health facilities.

Although that may be cheaper for the state, it doesn’t address the real problem with them, Neimond wrote in his recommendation to the six-member committee, which writes the state budget each year.

“The use of jail facilities to provide behavioral health crisis care signals that a patient has already reached a severity level that requires police intervention to mitigate harm to themselves or the general public,” Neimond wrote.

Under the program, such patients would be taken to special behavioral stabilization units that actually are designed to deal with such mental health issues.

The idea received wide support from the committee, but it was unwilling to take on the issue by itself.

Instead, a separate bill is to be introduced late this session creating the program.

“Almost $20 million may not be enough,” said Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver. “Whatever we do on this issue concerning the tragic incidents that have (happened) in Colorado, this should be a priority. If we’re going to do this, we should do it right.”

The JBC will get the results of the state’s first quarter revenue report on Monday. That report will dictate how much money the Legislature can budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Early reports indicate the report will show the state continues to recover from the recent recession, albeit slowly.


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