Guv Signs Major Mental Health Reform Bills

(May 16) – Gov. John Hickenlooper signed two key reforms to Colorado’s mental health system today at the Jefferson Center for Mental Health in Wheat Ridge.

SB13-266, sponsored in the House by Reps. Tracy Kraft-Tharp (D-Arvada) and Dave Young (D-Greeley), directs the Department of Human Services to create a coordinated behavioral health crisis response system for people who are experiencing significant mental health crises. This bill will create a 24-hour crisis telephone hotline, walk-in crisis services and crisis stabilization units, mobile crisis services, residential and respite crises services and a public information campaign.

“Improving our mental health system is a public safety issue,” said Rep. Kraft-Tharp, who has worked in the mental health field for 20 years. “There are people sitting out there right now who need help that our mental health system is not able to provide. We need a strong, comprehensive, integrated crisis system that provides appropriate and timely care, and these important bills will move us in that direction.”

Three in ten Coloradans are in need of behavioral health services and the economic downturn caused mental health services to be significantly cut. These bills are components of the governor’s focus on rebuilding and reinvesting in mental and behavioral health services system in Colorado.

“We are looking for a seamless system,” Rep. Young said. “We want to make sure people get the services they need, when they need them, and ensure we don’t have people falling through the cracks.”

HB13-1296, sponsored by Reps. Beth McCann (D-Denver) and Kraft-Tharp, creates the Civil Commitment Statute Review Committee in the Department of Human Services to meet during the 2013 legislative interim. During 2011, 28,700 people were placed on an emergency mental health hold or were certified for commitment. Currently, Colorado is the only state with three different statutory processes—one for mental illnesses, one for alcohol-related crises and one for substance abuse-related crises. The task force is required to study and prepare recommendations concerning the consolidation of mental health, alcohol and substance abuse disorder statutes concerning civil commitments.

“Our laws are confusing, so this task force will consider how to make our mental health system more efficient and provide better outcomes for Coloradans facing civil commitments and their families,” Rep. McCann said.

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