Passed! Natural Disaster Mental Health Support

DENVER, CO– The House today passed legislation sponsored by Representatives Lisa Cutter and Perry Will that would create the Community Behavioral Health DIsaster Preparedness and Response Program to ensure mental health services are a component of the state’s natural disaster response planning. The vote was 43-20.

“As the realities of climate change have worsened, Colorado has had to respond to too many devastating tragedies – wildfires, floods, droughts and mass shootings – that have left our communities reeling and our neighbors in need of immediate physical and mental health care,” said Rep. Lisa Cutter, D-Jefferson County. “By incorporating behavioral health into our state’s disaster response and preparedness plans, we can offer more of the services Coloradans impacted by disasters need during some of their most difficult moments. Connecting people with the services they need in the aftermath of a disaster can ensure that they have support in the long run to rebuild and recover.”

HB21-1281, sponsored by Representative Lisa Cutter and Perry Will, creates the Community Behavioral Health Disaster Preparedness and Response Program in the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). The program is intended to enhance, support, and formalize behavioral health disaster preparedness and response activities of community behavioral health organizations. 

Disaster behavioral health response differs from traditional psychotherapeutic interventions. The goal is to support normal behavioral functions and decrease stress, which allows for more normal brain activities, such as decision-making, problem solving, and cognitive processing. The intent of disaster response is to promote individual, family, and community resilience and it helps affected individuals return to a pre-disaster level of activity as quickly as possible. Disaster response methods include triage, basic support, psychological first aid, and making appropriate professional referrals in the community.

Community mental health centers are already operating a number of programs that would fall within the scope of this fund, especially as they relate to COVID-19, but funding for these programs is fragmented and much of the federal funding is expected to discontinue. The bill would provide funding to community behavioral health organizations for the disaster response services they provide.

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