Guest Columns

DELGROSSO: COMMUNITY MENTAL HEALTH CENTERS SERVE THE STATE

Legislature’s commitment to expand crisis intervention services will hopefully proceed

GUEST COLUMNIST

As the experts in providing integrated behavioral health services to the people of Colorado, the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council (CBHC) has advocated for many years to expand funding for much-needed mental health and substance abuse care and treatment. The 28 independent private organizations which are our members know first-hand the importance of these services and the consequences of funding gaps and shortages.

In well-developed partnerships with other first responders and local service agencies, we have knit together a safety net of critical resources for every community in Colorado. The opportunity presented in Senate Bill 13-266 to plan for locally-determined augmentation of the systems was a tremendous relief and source of hope throughout the state. Among their many other forms of expertise, our members are extraordinarily capable when providing emergency care and behavioral health crisis intervention. In some cases, community mental health centers have been providing that care for over 100 years. But the need has grown.

Just a few examples help convey the breadth and depth of this existing community-based crisis response system:

Colorado Springs: AspenPointe currently handles an average of 1,500 crisis calls every month through its centralized call center and crisis line staffed 24/7 by trained professionals. The response they provide to individuals in crisis is immediate, with no more than 20 seconds elapsing between the call coming in and the caller being connected to support. More than 230 of those calls each month result in rapid-response, face-to-face visits with the persons involved, either at their crisis center, in hospitals, juvenile detention facilities, or other locations as needed.

Boulder: Mental Health Partners was on scene and assisting immediately as flood waters rose last September in many of the communities they serve. Though their own offices were badly flooded, and many of their staff personally affected, they joined FEMA and other emergency responders and community volunteers to provide support and intervention for those most traumatized. For some, the effects of the disaster continue today, and unrelenting long-term stress can contribute to debilitating depression, addiction relapse, and social isolation. As with all our community mental health centers, Mental Health Partners offers a full continuum of service, from prevention through treatment and recovery support. The people they serve know the value of receiving support in the first hours of a crisis and also being able to connect to a higher level of care when and where it’s needed. These important efficiencies contribute to high-value health care.

Rural Northeast: Centennial Mental Health Center provides a highly trained, master’s level staff specializing in risk assessment and providing triage and crisis services for the 10 counties comprising Colorado’s northeast corner. Centennial also partnered with local law enforcement, hospitals, higher education, businesses and other community leaders to launch a series of crisis respite facilities across the region, including the 3,000 square foot multi-faceted Journey Pointe, which opened this past fall. These facilities provide coordinated and robust treatment to meet the needs of people in psychiatric crisis who otherwise would be forced to seek care through costly and underequipped emergency departments and local jails. This extensive network of partnerships and small but distributed resources exemplifies what a superb crisis response system looks like in our rural and frontier areas.

CBHC and its members are dedicated to serving the people of Colorado with full spectrum health care, addressing both behavioral and physical health needs. Whether it’s due to the loss of a job or a relationship, violent crime, fires, floods, or the symptoms of a biologically-based mental illness — in a crisis situation, our members are still there, supporting and helping all Coloradans.

Leaders among all of Colorado’s behavioral health stakeholders, including individuals living with mental illness or addictions, their families, service providers, payers, and colleagues in government, were thrilled to see the legislature pass, and the Governor sign, SB 266. This landmark legislation promised to build on what communities were already doing to care for people in crisis with an infusion of public funding essential to meaningfully expand access to that care. Our members eagerly responded when the state issued its Request for Proposals (RFP) to deliver these services last summer. When the state issued its second RFP, our community-based members responded again.

Like many others, we are frustrated with delays in moving this important effort forward. We hope that the issues now before the courts will soon be resolved. We wait, and look forward to seeing the legislature’s commitment to expand crisis intervention services come to fruition. It was an important initiative when first conceived, and it remains so.

George DelGrosso is the Chief Executive Officer of Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council. He previously served as executive director of Mental Health Centers in the San Luis Valley of Colorado and Cody, Wyoming. He has been in the mental health field for more than 37 years.