CO mental health bills increase support
July 14, 2021
By: Jeanne Souldern
Several bills focusing on the mental wellness of Coloradans, many of which garnered bipartisan support, were passed by lawmakers in the 2021 legislative session and signed into law by Governor Jared Polis.
The Behavioral Health Recovery Act (SB21-1371) is a $114 million omnibus bill, with $100 million coming from the federal American Rescue Plan Act COVID-relief dollars and the remaining $14 million from the state’s general fund. The expenditures, under this bill, cover a wide variety of mental health services, including a new county grant program for behavioral health services; workforce development programs to recruit, retain and train behavioral health care workers; crisis support services for youth, including ensuring the availability of residential treatment programs; development of a statewide care coordination infrastructure for locating mental health care services; a housing assistance program for those with substance abuse disorders; and funds for hiring additional staff for the state’s Office of Behavioral Health Ombudsman to help solve behavioral health access and coverage concerns, or complaints from consumers and providers.
SB 21-1371 also includes funding for a task force composed of state legislators and representatives from community organizations who will develop recommendations for spending federal funds dedicated to behavioral health concerns. Mental health advocacy organizations, like Mental Health Colorado, hope to see additional funding allocated to residential beds and housing support.
The Rapid Mental Health Response for Colorado Youth bill (HB21-1258) establishes a temporary screening and referral program for youth. These mental health services were developed in response to identified community needs, including help for individuals dealing with substance abuse, bullying, family crisis and mental health needs resulting from the pandemic. The screening portal will be available before the fall school semester begins.
If screening indicates the need for referral to a mental health professional, the program reimburses providers for up to three free mental health sessions for every Coloradan age 18 or younger. The screening and referral service expires on June 20, 2022.
In the July 1, 2021 edition of The Sopris Sun, Will Grandbois’ column “It was as easy as 9-6-3” addressed steps phone service providers are making to change current technology to implement the new 988 national suicide intervention and mental health crisis lifeline.
The 988 Suicide Prevention Lifeline Network bill (SB21-154) will enact federal legislation, passed by the United States Congress in October 2020, to establish a 988 crisis response number and create a sustainable funding option by requiring a 15 cents monthly surcharge per phone, beginning in January 2022.
A planning grant from the Federal Communications Commission will fund the roll out of the new number, available beginning July 2022.
Peer Support Professionals Behavioral Health (HB21-1021), a workforce development bill, expands the locations where peers can work and allows for Medicaid billing. Peer workers draw upon their own personal lived experiences of suicide, mental illness or recovery to provide authentic engagement and support for people accessing mental health care. This bill assists recovery support programs by ensuring that peers are more widely available, reasonably compensated and well trained.
The Secure Transportation Behavioral Health Crisis bill (HB21-1085) creates a transportation alternative for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis, rather than straining the limited resources of police vehicles or costly ambulance services.
Regulation of Restrictive Housing in Jails (HB21-1211) ends the use of solitary confinement for people living with serious mental illness, pregnant women and people living with physical and developmental disabilities. During a recent media presentation, Mental Health Colorado State Policy Director Lauren Snyder said, “We want to ensure those individuals who do end up in a criminal justice setting are treated with dignity and respect.”
The Establish Behavioral Health Administration bill (HB21-1097) addresses multiple recommendations from the Colorado Behavioral Health Task Force, created in 2019 by Governor Polis, which seeks statewide input on mental health services and identifies barriers to care. The task force’s top recommendation was to create one administrative agency to take charge of the state’s Behavioral Health Administration (BHA). The BHA will be the single state agency responsible for overseeing all mental health care services for Colorado. The bill requires the Department of Human Services to develop and submit a plan for creating and establishing the BHA on or before November 1, 2021, then to the Joint Budget Committee on or before January 30, 2022.
The Community Behavioral Health Disaster Program bill (HB21-1281) was co-sponsored by House District 57 Representative Perry Will to create a community behavioral health disaster preparedness and response program.
Last year showed us the importance of dealing with the stress-related psychological conditions. This legislation, mental health advocates cite, will benefit individuals impacted by disasters such as wildfires, floods or mass shootings.
And lastly, the Insurance Coverage Mental Health Wellness Exam bill (HB21-1068) will provide, at no cost to consumers, an annual mental health wellness check which could include screenings for mental health or substance use-related concerns and referrals for further treatment. When the patient is a child, it will consist of age-appropriate screening and consultation with a parent about behavioral health concerns.
Even with the successful passage of key bills this session, Mental Health Colorado President and CEO Vincent Atchity acknowledged the critical need for additional mental health care legislation moving forward. “We recognize we need a transformed landscape. While this is an important, incremental progress, along the way, there is still so much that needs to be done and lives that remain at great risk,” he explained.
For more information about Colorado General Assembly bills, go to: leg.colorado.gov/bills
For more information about Mental Health Colorado, go to: mentalhealthcolorado.org