Legislation includes $168 million to increase access to care for youth, address inequities and improve behavioral health outcomes, & increase school-based resources for kids
Denver, CO – Yesterday, the Senate and House introduced a slate of legislation aimed at addressing Colorado’s behavioral health crisis using a portion of the $450 million in federal pandemic relief funds secured in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The bills were developed based on recommendations from the state’s Behavioral Health Transformational Task Force.
The legislation will increase access to behavioral health care for children and youth, help implement innovative community based-programs to address inequities and improve behavioral health outcomes, and increase access to behavioral health resources in schools.
“We set off the year with an ambitious goal of addressing Colorado’s behavioral health crisis and helping folks get the care they need, and this first package of bills is our first step in achieving that goal,” said Sen. Brittany Pettersen (D-Lakewood), Chair of the Behavioral Health Transformational Task Force. “With these bills, we are well on our way to providing greater support for our kids and families, as we continue to work toward creating a behavioral health system that is accessible and equitable for all.”
HB22-1281: Funding for Community Behavioral Health Continuum of Care Gap Grants, sponsored by Senators Faith Winter and Bob Rankin & Representative Gonzales-Gutierrez: In an effort to ensure Coloradans across the state—including children, youth and families—have access to the behavioral health care they need, this bill will invest $90 million in grant funds for local governments and nonprofit organizations to implement innovative, community-based programs with the goal of meeting regional gaps and transforming behavioral health outcomes across the state.
“Every community in our state is facing unique challenges when it comes to behavioral health care access, which is why we’ve designed a grant program that will respond to the specific gaps in each of our communities to increase access to care,” said Behavioral Health Care Transformational Task Force Vice Chair Serena Gonzales- Gutierrez (D-Denver). “This legislation will provide resources directly to our communities to support locally-tailored solutions across the entire continuum of care. It will also ensure that there is a care access point for youth and family-oriented care closer to their communities.”
“Accessing behavioral health care in our state can be complex and difficult, making it challenging for Coloradans to get the care they need to maintain their health and well-being,” said Sen. Faith Winter (D-Westminster). “We recognize that different parts of the state have different needs when it comes to addressing mental health and substance use disorders, which is why we’re making a critical investment to address these inequities as we continue working toward building a healthier Colorado for all.”
HB22-1283: Youth and Family Residential Behavioral Health Care, sponsored by Senators Janet Buckner and Kevin Priola & Representatives Dafna Michaelson Jenet and Mary Bradfield: Colorado does not have adequate capacity to serve children and youth with complex behavioral health needs. As a result, too many children are sent out-of-state to access treatment, far away from their families and support network. This bill will invest $54 million to support intensive youth and family residential and outpatient care, ensuring that children, youth, and families can access behavioral health treatment and services they need right here in Colorado.
“Kids all across Colorado deserve access to quality behavioral health care, but our current system isn’t getting them the care they need,” said Sen. Janet Buckner, (D-Aurora). “I am proud to champion this important legislation that will improve access to behavioral health care for youth in Colorado, and help make sure that every family in our state is able to receive the vital care they need to thrive.”
“Colorado youth and families need places to turn for residential and outpatient behavioral health care to get the care they need, but these options are limited and are often hard to access in Colorado,” said Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet (D-Commerce City). “My family had to seek out of state education options for our child, and it was hard to have him so far away. Families should be able to access the services they need in Colorado. The legislation we’re advancing will build and fund a youth residential treatment facility at Fort Logan with up to 16 beds and provide operational support for additional 30 beds across the state.”
SB22-147: School and Pediatric Behavioral Health Care Integrations, sponsored by Senators Chris Kolker and Jerry Sonnenberg & Representatives Mary Young and Rod Pelton: Over the last decade, youth suicide has increased an astonishing 51 percent, as youth behavioral health has reached a crisis level. The bill will expand behavioral health investments for Colorado youth by $11 million, allowing pediatricians to better identify and treat behavioral health conditions and providing school-based supports for kids and their families.
“Far too many kids in Colorado are struggling with their mental health,” said Sen. Chris Kolker (D-Centennial). “We must act urgently to address this crisis and provide critical support to our state’s young people where and when they need it most. Together, we can work to end the stigma surrounding mental health, expand access to care, and save lives."
“We are going to direct over $11 million to expand access to behavioral health resources in schools to help prepare our students for success and provide them the resources they need to thrive,” said Rep. Mary Young (D-Greeley), who has spent decades working in behavioral health in Colorado schools. “This legislation will expand school-based health centers across the state, invest in having more mental health professionals in our schools, and significantly boost our capacity to offer critical mental health services to Colorado youth.”
Another bill, HB22-1243, puts an additional $2 million in ARPA funding toward the behavioral health care professional matching grant program and extends the popular I Matter program beyond its scheduled repeal in June 2022, paving the way to serve youth with free counseling sessions for another two years. HB22-1243 will be heard in the House Education Committee on Thursday, March 10.