May 28, 2024


Extraordinary care

Lawmakers unveil slate of mental, behavioral health bills with eyes on family, youth services

Local grants aimed at behavioral health service gaps, more residential beds for youths in crisis, and money for a behavioral health facility on tribal lands are part of the first salvo of federally funded behavioral health bills announced Tuesday by legislative leaders.

The four bills — with more to come — are part of an ongoing effort to boost Colorado’s often dismal rankings in mental health care. A task force assembled last year to examine the issue noted a report from Mental Health America that more than a quarter of Coloradans live with a mental illness or substance use disorder.

That report ranks Colorado No. 37 for its prevalence of behavioral health concerns and access to care, and 51 when it comes to just adults.

“Unfortunately in the past, when we have had tight years, some of the choices being made were not to support the behavioral health professions and they were some of the first things that were cut,” Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver, said Tuesday.

The bills introduced this week would cost about $160 million, according to initial estimates. Of that, $90 million would be for grants for local agencies. About $54 million would be for intensive care, including respite care services for children and families and establishing a 16-bed neuropsychological facility for people younger than 21 at Denver-area Colorado Mental Health Institute at Fort Logan. Another $11 million would be aimed at training for pediatricians on behavioral health and bolstering behavioral health services at schools.

Another bill would create a $5 million grant for Native American tribal nations in Colorado to create a behavioral health facility and provide related services.

A fiscal analysis by non-partisan legislative staff has not yet been done on the bills.

“Prevention is key,” Rep. Mary Young, D-Greeley and a former school psychologist said. “What we provide to communities really can result in reduced suicidal ideation, reduced youth violence. It has definite positive outcomes supported by research.”