MENTAL HEALTH MEASURE GETS SUPPORT FROM FORMER LEGISLATOR

By: Paul Albani-BurgioReporter-Herald Staff Writer

October 24, 2018

Former State House Speaker and Mental Health Colorado President Andrew Romanoff speaks to the Loveland Lions Club at the Golden Choral in Loveland on Wednesday. (Paul Albani-Burgio / Loveland Reporter-Herald)

Larimer County is once again deciding how to vote on a ballot issue that would raise taxes by 0.25 percent to provide mental health issue identification, support and treatment services to county residents.

On Wednesday, former Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives Andrew Romanoff spoke to the members of the Loveland Lions Club about why he felt voters should support Ballot Issue 1A, the toll of mental health issues in Colorado and how local communities can take action to address those issues.

Romanoff is now the president and CEO of the Mental Health Colorado advocacy organization.

“If you believe the people who need these services shouldn’t have to travel so far to access mental health services or wait so long or go without help altogether you ought to vote yes on this measure so that you can have and keep these services and facilities closer to home,” Romanoff said in his speech. “I don’t want to meet any more families like mine that have lost a loved one to mental illness and that is what this measure would help us to avoid.”

Romanoff’s comment was in reference to his first cousin, who he said shot herself in 2015 at 35 because she was suffering from depression that she hid from her family. Romanoff explained that he felt depression was the only disease that could have killed his cousin at her age because “if she had had any other disease in the world she would not have hesitated to tell us [her family] about it and we would not have hesitated to get her treatment.”

Lions Club member Scott Hayward said the club had asked Romanoff to speak because mental health is “an upcoming issue” and “until you get the right person who can talk about it, it can be hard to understand some of this stuff.”

“You’ve got to bring it to the front one way or the other,” he said.

Much of Romanoff’s comments were focused on two steps he said communities should be taking to address mental health issues on a local level. The first was to make sure resources are available in communities to diagnose and begin addressing mental issues, particularly among adolescents as that is the age when such problems are most likely to surface.

Romanoff said many schools and communities have taken steps toward making such screenings and services more available. However, those steps often come as the result of grants from nonprofits, which he said are by nature temporary.

“What we need to decide in my view is whether mental health ought to be a public priority or just continue to rely on private charity,” he said. “I can tell you there is a cost to putting professionals in schools and training staff on these issues, but there is a bigger cost for not doing that.”

The second major step, he said, is to make sure sufficient resources are available within communities for people to actually get mental health treatment, which laws often entitle them to.

Romanoff said Colorado law requires insurers to fund mental health care to the same degree they do physical health care and provide access to mental health care services within a week of when they are sought. However, a lack of sufficient mental health professionals and other resources makes meeting those requirements impossible in many areas. Romanoff said 1A would take steps on both fronts within Larimer County.

When a member of the Lions Club asked about the estimated cost savings that would come to communities that invest in greater mental health services, Romanoff said current research estimates that communities would see about a $12 savings for every dollar they invest in mental health services. Those savings would come in the form of reduced costs for prisons and emergency room visits and the multitude of other expenses he said result from untreated mental health problems.

However, he acknowledged that it can be challenging for voters to weigh those long-term savings against the immediate costs of short-term measures like 1A.

“What you are staring at on the ballot is an expense today and the promise of savings tomorrow,” he said. “I think that’s one of the reasons we shortchange the investments is we can’t see the savings come quick enough and then we end up doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

Paul Albani-Burgio: 970-699-5407, palbani-burgio@reporter-herald.com


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