Guv directs $18.5M to mental health

As part of a coordinated response to recent mass shootings in Colorado and elsewhere, Gov. John Hickenlooper unveiled a plan Tuesday to put another $18.5 million toward mental health services in the state.

The plan, hailed by mental health professionals statewide, would increase the number of beds the state provides for mental health patients, update the procedure for checking mental health holds on gun purchases and establish a statewide mental health crisis hotline for people to use when issues arise.

The plan also calls for opening five 24/7 walk-in crisis stabilization outlets around the state, some of which would be located on the Western Slope, said Reggie Bicha, executive director of the Colorado Department of Human Services.

“We need to work with the (Colorado) General Assembly and others to determine where these facilities will be located, but we expect there will be services in this plan that are provided on the Western Slope,” Bicha told a group of people Tuesday at Colorado West Regional Mental Health, where he came to announce the governor’s plan to people on this side of the Continental Divide.

“The 24-hour hotline, the way we’re proposing it, will be a 1-800 number that will be able to market to people across the state,” he added. “But we don’t want them to call somebody over in Denver who has no idea about the services that are available here at Colorado West. We want to work with the people at Colorado West and other mental health and substance abuse providers to make sure the 800 number gets directed to a local provider.”

The plan also is to include a major marketing component designed to help lift the shroud of shame that often is associated with mental health issues, said Mo Keller, vice president of policy of Mental Health America, who flew to Grand Junction along with other governmental and private mental health advocates to announce the governor’s plan.

Keller said that marketing plan, in part, will be designed to let every Coloradan know that mental health problems are no different than physical ailments, that they shouldn’t be hidden from view, and let them know where services are available. A former state senator and longtime member of the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee, Keller said Tuesday’s announcement of more resources for mental health services marks a quantum shift in policy on the issue.

“We continue to spend an inordinate amount of money on the back end as a consequence of not doing the front end,” Keller said. “This is true in almost every state in the nation (that) the Department of Corrections, the prisons system is the largest provider of mental health service in the state, and county jail is the second-largest.”

She said Tuesday’s announcement of more resources for “front-end” mental health services marks a major shift in policy that she hopes will continue.

The plan also calls for:

■ Authorizing the Colorado Judicial Department to transfer mental health commitment records electronically to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation in real time for the purposes of doing background checks for firearm purchases.

■ Opening a 20-bed jail-based mental health restoration facility in Denver to free up beds in the state mental health hospital in Pueblo.

■ Developing community residential services for mental health patients transitioning from institutional care.

■ Open two 15-bed residential facilities somewhere in the state for short-term transition from mental health hospitals.

■ Target housing subsidies to add 107 housing vouchers for people with serious mental illness.

Hickenlooper said the mental health programs are only part of the state’s reaction to July’s horrific shooting at a movie theater in Aurora. He also has called on the Legislature to consider new gun-control measures, the nature of which are not yet known.

“No single plan can guarantee to stop dangerous people from doing harm to themselves or others,” the governor said. “But we can help people from falling through the cracks. We believe these policies will reduce the probability of bad things happening to good people.”


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