Summit Daily editorial: State has far to go in addressing mental health crisis

Colorado’s county jails have become the last resort for our broken mental health system.

Getting a psychiatric bed for a person in crisis can be a time-consuming challenge that frequently falls to law officers. Consequently, patients deemed a risk to themselves or others often wind up isolated inside a stripped-down cell designed to prevent suicide. That’s regardless of whether they’ve been charged with a crime or not.

Here in Summit County, the average number of hours people spend in mental health jail holds has risen from 44 hours in 2014 to 651 last year, a 1,365 percent increase.

It’s a grim reality that sheriffs, state lawmakers and health care providers all believe is an inhumane criminalization of mental illness.

We applaud efforts at the state level to address the issue, particularly a new law that will end mental health lockups for non-criminal patients by May 1 and set aside $7 million in marijuana tax money to expand crisis care services, including a six-bed crisis unit on the Western Slope.

However, that isn’t going to be enough. We agree with Andrew Romanoff’s assessment.

“Ending the use of jails as warehouses for people experiencing mental health emergencies is a step in the right direction, but it would be an enormous mistake to declare victory and go home,” the president of Mental Health Colorado recently told the Summit Daily.

Six additional beds will not address our underfunded and inadequate mental health infrastructure. Between state and private facilities, Colorado has around 1,300 patient beds. Some experts argue twice that is needed to meet demand.

So while it makes sense to keep the mentally ill out of jails, exactly where they will go instead is still a looming question the state has yet to answer. Officials such as Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons are now scrambling to prepare for when the law takes effect in just under a year.

“The bill does a great job of saying here’s what we want you to do and you work a way to do it, but it doesn’t tell you how to do it,” he said.

The good news locally is that Summit County isn’t waiting around for the state to solve its mental health problems. Several local officials and nonprofits are working hard to address the issue. Groups like Building Hope Summit County and National Alliance on Mental Illness are making inroads in partnering with law enforcement officials and local health providers to ensure that the most fragile members of our community don’t fall through the cracks.

We urge you to get involved with area organizations heading the charge. If you need help, contact these resources:

Summit Recovery: A comprehensive listing of recovery meetings for drugs and alcohol in Summit County can be found at

24/7 Colorado Crisis Services Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-844-493-TALK (8255)

Mind Springs Health: 970-668-3478

National Institute on Drug Abuse:

Summit Community Care Clinic: 970-668-4040

This editorial was originally published by the Summit Daily.