Colorado Health Institute marks 20 years of health policy advocacy with equity-focused behavioral health reforms


Boram Kim


The Colorado Health Institute (CHI) marked its 20th anniversary as an organization devoted to health reform and advocacy in Colorado with the release of its 2022 Annual Report on July 11th. 


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The organization’s 2022 health agenda focused on three areas of concern in Colorado: health and climate, behavioral health, and integrating systems of care. 

CHI launched Acclimate Colorado in 2022, a collaborative effort with state leadership on policies that address the health and resiliency of Colorado communities in the face of climate change and remains focused on initiatives that address these concerns as part of its 2023 health agenda

The organization has built a “broad coalition” to create a common governance structure to integrate the myriad healthcare systems in the metro Denver region, working with key partners on a call to action to improve mental health access and equity. 

“I’m proud of what our team accomplished in 2022. We’ve helped the State of Colorado plan for the endemic phase of COVID-19 and provided guidance on how the state can address the needs of Coloradans living with Alzheimer’s Disease. We’ve supported community organizations to better meet the needs of an aging population and provided data and strategic guidance for groups working to reduce homelessness and fight hunger.

We’re proud that we’ve helped local public health departments build bridges with diverse communities and improve their services for children and youth with special healthcare needs. We’ve also helped grow the next generation of healthcare leaders through a unique series of fellowships and training programs.”

— Sara Schmitt, CHI president and CEO, 2022 Annual Report

Colorado is expected to pursue reforms as part of the Biden administration’s effort to improve care for the justice-involved population.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released guidance in April for states to apply for a new Medicaid 1115 Demonstration to increase healthcare access for those departing prisons and jails.

The Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF) recently opened its mobile crisis response benefit across Medicaid offering individuals in crisis a timely and community-based response aimed at reducing law enforcement involvement and emergency room utilization. 

CHI partnered with the Colorado Behavioral Health Administration to develop a set of policy recommendations for promoting behavioral health across the criminal justice continuum, which includes improving access to and quality of services, workforce, and the statewide data-sharing infrastructure. 

CHI and BHA also developed a person-centered sequential intercept model that supports a path to care over incarceration for people in crisis as well as access to mental healthcare and re-entry for the justice-involved population.

CHI’s advocacy efforts led to Colorado passing House Bills 1167 and 1153 earlier this year, which provide immunity from criminal prosecution for individuals reporting cases of drug overdose and pathways to care for people with serious mental illness.