(June 9) – In response to the governor’s veto of SB16-169, Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp expressed her disappointment and renewed her commitment to improving mental health services in Colorado in partnership with mental health professionals, health providers, law enforcement, and advocates.

Under current law, individuals experiencing mental health crises are supposed to be sent to a “designated facility” with specialized services, or, if one is not available, the patient is sent to a local jail on a temporary hold. Because many rural communities in Colorado lack facilities that are properly equipped to handle these individuals, they are frequently either sent to jail—where they do not belong—or they are sent to the emergency room of a local hospital. This places ERs in a legal bind; they are faced with either breaking state law, which would require them to send the patient directly to a designated facility or jail, or federal law, which requires them to screen and stabilize each patient that presents in the ER prior to release.

“This bill would have been an important step forward in recognizing and dealing with the problems in our behavioral health system—giving our hospitals the ability to care for patients without breaking the law and reducing the number of people being sent to jail,” said Rep. Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada. “The problem is clear: we are in dire need of more resources for mental health in our state. I am glad to see the governor is convening a taskforce to tackle this problem and look forward to participating. I will continue to work toward solutions to ensure that our citizens have access to mental health services in times of crisis, and that our hospitals and law enforcement officials have the tools they need to keep their patients safe.”

SB16-169 would have ensured that individuals are taken to hospitals or a designated facility during times of crisis, and only taken to a jail after other options have been exhausted, after a court review, and if the individual was violently aggressive. It would have expanded the number of professionals who can remove mental health holds, so that people aren’t held unnecessarily. It also would have helped inform future improvements to meet behavioral health needs in the state through data collection and a coordinated stakeholder process to assess the needs of the mental health crisis system. Finally, it would have engaged non-designated hospitals more formally by giving them legal authority to care for people in crisis.

Rep. Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada, has had a long career in the mental health field. She began her career as a middle school teacher, but soon moved on to become a youth counselor in a juvenile detention center and later was a social worker, working with at-risk children and their families. She went on to manage the Women in Crisis battered women’s shelter and the Gemini House, an adolescent crisis shelter in Jefferson County. During her time at the legislature she has been recognized multiple times for her efforts to improve mental health services in Colorado.

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