Mental Health Policy
The recent challenges that COVID-19 has presented emphasize the importance of access to quality mental health care for all Coloradans. This issue remains a top priority of my work in the legislature and is necessary to ensure a full recovery of all Coloradans.
The isolation requirements necessary to combat COVID-19 have exacerbated mental health care challenges, even for those that never contract or know anyone that contracts the virus. The lack of in-person socialization, and/or solitary isolation, places an extreme amount of stress and often creates or worsens mental health challenges. Legislators must be prepared to not only address recovery for the physical health and economic challenges that COVID-19 presents but must also be prepared to address recovery for mental health challenges as well.
Over the last three years, Colorado has seen the highest increase in adolescent suicide of any state in the Country and two-thirds of homeless individuals in Colorado begin the cycle of homelessness because of mental health challenges. Colorado’s largest mental health facility is a county jail and we are using our jail system as the most common attempted treatment of mental health conditions. We can and must do better to improve mental health outcomes in our state.
In my first term I will address this crisis in the following ways:
1. Mental Health Care Parity
One of the changes to Colorado law that I will pursue is a clear recognition of health care parity between physical and mental health care. Health care insurers and organizations will be required to provide behavioral health services on par with the physical health services that are provided. This will build on HB20-1086, which has already passed in the Colorado House and will hopefully become law after the legislature resumes its delayed session. I will work with my constituents, providers and insurance companies to ensure this is implemented thoughtfully, with a focus towards increased outcomes with an overall lower cost, and consistent with my belief that we must all work together to face difficult challenges.
2. Adolescent Mental Health Care
In order to reverse the cycle of adolescent suicide, we must radically change the way we address and fund adolescent mental health care in our state. Currently, mental health care funds are distributed from the state on a regional level to service organizations. While these organizations work hard to serve their communities, this method leads to a lack of consistency in funding and care across the state. All Coloradans deserve the same opportunities for mental health care, regardless of the county they live in. During a recent visit to a non-profit mental health facility, I learned that Colorado’s investment in mental health care for adolescents is so low that some facilities have closed, and others rely on out-of-state patients in order to survive. If those adolescents suffering from mental health challenges get the care they need, they are able to become a successful part of Colorado’s economy and reduce the state’s financial burden long term.
3. Mental Health Care While Incarcerated
Colorado’s largest mental health care providers are jail/prison facilities across the state. We spend exorbitant amounts of money providing what is required under the law for those that are incarcerated; however, the care we are providing is palliative and not focused on improving the mental health of those within the responsibility of the state. We must institute a full evaluation of our inmate population to identify those that are suffering from mental health conditions and reevaluate the methods of treatment and distribution of treatment funds.
Too many people are being sent to prison rather than drug rehabilitation facilities. I will work closely with community stakeholders to address this issue in tandem with prioritizing increasing opportunities for mental healthcare while incarcerated.
Having had the opportunity to co-chair the transition team for the sheriff of one of the largest counties in the nation, I had the unique role of addressing mental health care within the county jail, the largest mental health facility in the state. I brought together mental health professionals of different expertise and backgrounds to successfully address mental health treatment in the jail system. I understand how to address mental health in a bureaucratic system, while improving the quality and outcome of care at a lower cost to taxpayers.
As your representative I will advocate for legislation that will:
Require that insurers treat mental health care and physical health care with the same rules and requirements.
Work to increase access to mental health providers through the use of telemedicine and incentivizing providers to work in Colorado by reducing licensing costs.
Establish a committee to re-evaluate Colorado’s implementation of the Family First Prevention Services Act to better implement mental health treatment options for adolescents.
Increase reimbursement rates and accelerate the reimbursement time frame for licensed treatment facilities located in Colorado and apportion funds on a statewate, not regional level.
Allocate funding for in-treatment educational facilities at a state-wide level. This will reduce unnecessary overhead costs in collecting educational funds from multiple school districts for an in-treatment educational program.
Re-evaluate jail based behavioral health treatment and invest in separate mental health treatment units within jail and prison facilities, with a focus on re-entry and treatment, not punishment. This program will include partnering with community based organizations to assist with reentry.
Establish a pilot program within county jail facilities to require at least 2 deputies to focus on mental health treatment programs and assisting inmates requiring transition to a behavioral health facility.