Op-Ed: Passage of behavioral health bill welcomes Coloradans with lived experience to engage in system reform


Boram Kim


As the Commissioner of the Behavioral Health Administration (BHA), which is now officially set to launch on July 1, I feel renewed hope. The passage of House Bill 22-1278 marks a momentous and historical shift in the way Coloradans will experience and receive behavioral health care. HB22-1278, sponsored by Representatives Young and Pelton and Senators Lee and Simpson, establishes the BHA, a new state agency tasked with reforming mental health care and substance use treatment in Colorado.

My hope is a familiar feeling. Growing up in Dallas, Texas, I experienced the stigma, disparities, and cultural complexities that are inherent to the structures and processes of our current behavioral health system. These barriers to quality care are shared experiences for many in Colorado who are part of historically-excluded and medically-underserved communities. In response to the stories of our neighbors and our community, my father answered the call to start up crisis services in our neighborhood and modeled a compassionate and thoughtful behavioral health response grounded in meeting people where they are. The hope I feel today is the hope I felt standing in my dad’s power to challenge and change the system, to value people over diagnosis, and to lead boldly.

My early and formative experiences in community-based, neighborhood care led me to outreach and engagement work at Howard University Hospital. The lessons I carry with me from Howard are in the foundations and formation of the BHA Advisory Council (BHAAC). Members of the BHAAC will serve alongside me, providing recommendations  and community solutions. The BHAAC is a unique opportunity for Coloradans with lived behavioral health experience to co-create and inform the BHA’s vision and strategic plan, with a direct connection to community and meaningful representation of diverse identities. Our BHAAC application form launched today, and we are accepting submissions starting today and until June 6, 2022.

Along with hope, I feel deep passion and commitment for this work. The passing of HB22-1278 and the upcoming launch of the BHA marks the formation of the first state agency charged with reimagining and building a behavioral health continuum that is equitable, accountable, and effective. As I prepare for the launch, I draw guidance and strength from my journey to become an addiction psychiatrist. My educational pathway was the intersection of medical school and divinity school, a non-traditional balance of science and faith, uniquely positioning me to lead the BHA at this moment. I have the privilege to call on my fearless team, people with lived experience, behavioral health providers, future advisory council members, state agency partners, community organizations, Cabinet-level colleagues, Governor Polis, and all Coloradans to be a part of this history-making, standard-raising behavioral health transformation.

I am working every day to build a system that helps and also acknowledges harm. That is agile, as well as aware. I am proud to have convened all of Colorado’s crisis providers, met with all Cabinet members who are connected to the BHA’s work, held office hours to ensure the wellbeing of the BHA team, traveled throughout Colorado on my statewide tour, and held the stories of Coloradans and their experiences with the behavioral system all in preparation for our July 1 launch.

Listening to and showing up for community is just the beginning. I will regularly convene an interagency council of my peers to resolve grievances and hold space for stories from Coloradans trying to receive care in our system. I am committed to using my platform and position to better the quality of life and care for Tribal, urban, rural and frontier populations. There is so much more work to be done and I am answering the call. I hope that you will too.

This op-ed was provided by Dr. Morgan Medlock, Commissioner of the Colorado Behavioral Health Administration.