Behavioral health subpanel vice-chair discusses importance of recommendations on Colorado’s future

The Behavioral Health Transformational Task Force released a draft of their final recommendations last week, which are intended to inform behavioral health policymaking for the 2022 legislative session. 

Before the release of the draft, a subpanel of health experts from throughout Colorado came together to give the legislative members of the task force policy recommendations from their shared knowledge of the on-the-ground-issues in behavioral health.  

 

Get the latest state-specific policy intelligence for the health care sector delivered to your inbox.

 

According to Vincent Atchity, president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado and vice-chair of the subpanel, the most important themes of the subpanel recommendations include expanding access to care for young people, minimizing the arrest of adults for behavioral health concerns, and expanding housing and infrastructure for adults with serious mental illness. 

The subpanel of “very committed experts,” said Atchity, came up with 66 total recommendations to transform the behavioral health care in Colorado with the $450 million of ARPA money they had. “$450 million dollars is a lot of money obviously, but it is not billions of dollars,” Atchity said. “So, the subpanel was faced with this challenge of–given our dire circumstances–what can we do that will be most impactful?”

Before the creation of the panel and the task force, Atchity said Colorado consistently ranked near the bottom of the nation for adult need for mental health services versus their access to that care. He said the state ranked lowest in the country in the most recent rankings.

“We have been in a mental health access crisis, as well as an opioid epidemic, for years now. We have one of the highest suicide rates in the nation, and suicide is the leading cause of death for young Coloradans. So it is a pretty bleak scene when it comes to people’s need for health care.”

Access to mental and behavioral health care for youth was at top of mind for the subpanel, said Atchity. He highlighted a recent lawsuit against the state of Colorado for failure to comply with federal requirements for access to care for young people. Illinois had a similar lawsuit, which forced the state to provide better access to health care for its children on Medicaid, he said. 

Atchity said many of Colorado’s youth have to go out of state in order to receive the mental and behavioral health care they need. Access is especially lacking in residential and in-patient care. 

In response, the subpanel recommended an investment between $54-$59 million to expand the number of beds and treatment facilities in youth and family residential care facilities. The task force’s drafted recommendations increased this amount to between $54-$66.5 million. 

Atchity said adults with serious mental illness are also having trouble finding care. He said Colorado has a “need above all for adequate beds … The whole variety of residential and in-patient capacity is just missing.” He said there are great needs in both high acuity and low acuity care.

The subpanel recommended an investment between $47-$55 million for adult residential care, especially in transitional housing, supportive housing, and recovery homes. The task force’s drafted recommendations increased this amount to between $65-$71 million. 

Atchity also highlighted the problems around the justice system around detaining individuals due to their behavioral or mental health issues. Investment dollars here come from the adult residential care allocation pool.  

He said the subpanel recommended the expansion of pre-arrest diversion programs and services to redirect those who are of danger to other people or themselves to the proper behavioral health services they need. 

Atchity said he’s hopeful the legislature will enact these policy recommendations with bipartisan support. He hopes to see over 200 new in-patient and residential beds come out of this new legislative session, which begins tomorrow.