With a billion-dollar influx from the federal government and a new state behavioral health administration, mental health advocates in Colorado are looking forward to a brighter future.
Lawmakers have worked over the past two sessions to get the BHA off the ground, and as of July 1, the cabinet-led agency, which will be housed within the Department of Human Services, is official.
Vincent Atchity, president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado, was among the advocates looking forward to a better mental health system in the state.
In a statement Friday, Atchity said they hope the new administration “will begin to ease the plight of many people across the state who are struggling to access quality, affordable mental health and addictions care.” . But he is also aware of the realities of the system: not enough mental health beds; more young people in crisis, some as a result of the pandemic, and the potential raised by members of the harm reduction community that rethinking fentanyl will create more problems than it solves.
“The reality … is that the mental health crisis in this state continues to deepen, intensified by the pandemic, increased gun violence, economic hardship, our state legislature’s revitalization of ‘war against drugs “demystified, not to mention recent Supreme Court rulings that erode environmental protections and roll back women’s rights in more than half of the states,” Atchity said.
“More people than ever need help right now, and that number is more likely to rise than fall in the months to come. We are issuing an urgent call to action for all Coloradans – including, but not only, our first responders, healthcare providers, and educators – to remember that every encounter has the potential to change and save lives.In this time of crisis, when access to professional health care quality is so limited, everyone must take greater responsibility for compassionate care and service in support of each other.”
Dr Morgan Medlock, the BHA commissioner, said the new agency “is not just about building a system that is meaningful, accessible and reliable. It is about building a system in which we would like members of our own family be part of,” Medlock said.
“We are building on incredible leaders who have moved the needle inch by inch, and now we finally have the platform to make historic change. With the support and trust of Colorado, we will bring to life the solutions needed that have been in the works for decades,” she added.
According to Medlock, more than one million people in Colorado need behavioral health services. This will require a more robust system, to include the implementation of provider performance dashboards for patients to review prior to service, universal contractual arrangements for all behavioral health providers to ensure accountability and consistency practices, and a fair system that ensures all people in Colorado have access to quality services, regardless of ability to pay, according to a BHA statement Friday.
Under Bill 22-1278, the BHA will create a “coordinated, cohesive and effective behavioral health system” focused on both mental health and addictions. The BHA will manage most behavioral health programs that were previously managed by the DHS Office of Behavioral Health.