Development of Behavioral Health Administration underway in Colorado

Following the passage of HB 1097, the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) is in the preliminary stages of developing its ambitious Behavioral Health Administration (BHA). Robert Werthwein, the director of the department’s Office of Behavioral Health (OBH), says a considerable amount of stakeholder engagement remains before CDHS finalizes an official implementation plan.

“It’s going to be a phased approach — it’s not going to happen overnight. And we do expect that we’re going to have to continue to work at this and we can’t be content with just a concept.”



The department is collaborating with consulting firm Health Management Associates (HMA) to develop a plan of action. It is currently in the “change management process,” during which HMA gathers input from state personnel and other stakeholders. HMA is using this input — conducted through focus groups and open forums — to draft potential models of what the new administration would look like.

HMA will then present these potential plans to the Behavioral Health Reform Executive Committee and the Governor’s Office, who will ultimately decide on one of the proposed models and submit it to the General Assembly by Nov.1 — the deadline for CDHS to finalize its plan.

“We still have some more meetings to have. And then the next step is the implementation step, and sort of, ‘What does this look like? What sort of stuff has to go into place for this to work?’ So a lot of work is going to need to be done between now and November 1st.”


Image: Colorado Department of Human Services


HMA has so far evaluated 128 different behavioral health programs in other locations, reviewed 79 pieces of legislation and statutes, and assessed 119 funding sources to inform their drafting of the plan. They have also met with over 200 stakeholders, the majority of which are community health center representatives and behavioral health providers. They have engaged with 51 of Colorado’s 64 counties.

HMA is also consulting with numerous state agencies including the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF), the Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE) and the Department of Education (DOE).

“Health Management Associates has been meeting with the different state departments as well as with community stakeholders to get input and to get different points of view as we move forward in developing the Behavioral Health Administration. [We are] really determining the exact structure and what it needs to look like so that we can improve our system in Colorado.”

Werthwein was frank about the challenge of creating a brand new state entity in such a short amount of time.

“This is a large undertaking in a quick amount of time, and we want to get all of the voices heard … We have to work together across all different state departments and with the community stakeholders to make this successful.”

He nonetheless underscored the importance of the effort and believes it will significantly increase access to mental health services in Colorado.

“I really do think it’s going to make us a more effective government in delivering behavioral health services to the citizens of the state. Coloradans really need us to kind of coordinate together. Right now, we’re each sort of solving our own behavioral health problem within each state department, versus sort of strategically working together and having a shared vision and a shared goal on improving the community behavioral health system in the state.”

Per HB 1097, Colorado must have an operative BHA by July 1, 2022. Members of the public can provide input on BHA development here.