Bill to revamp Colorado mental health crisis response moves forward

By Yesenia Robles
The Denver Post

A bill that outlines how to spend $20 million to create a new statewide crisis response system for mental health continues to move forward in the state legislature.

Senate Bill 266, passed out of the House Public Health Care and Human Services committee on a 9-4 vote Tuesday.

Republican Reps. Justin Everett, Janak Joshi, Lois Landgraf and Jim Wilson voted against the measure.

Bill sponsor Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, said the measure would set up a request for proposals process to develop the walk-in crisis centers first suggested last year by Gov. John Hickenlooper. The bill however, does not limit how many of the centers will be created.

Hickenlooper's plan called for a statewide crisis hotline and five walk-in centers that would be open 24-hours a day and seven days a week.

The joint budget committee approved full funding for that plan, but nearly doubled the funding to incorporate portions of an alternative plan presented by the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council, including mobile response teams, respite services and short-term residential services.

The alternative plan, developed by leaders of community mental health centers, was meant to address concerns that having only five centers would disproportionately distribute resources.

They proposed instead funneling the money toward existing community mental health centers to create 13 walk-in centers instead of five.

Aguilar said the RFPs will be reviewed by committees that are addressing the state's mental health crisis services to ensure the awards are distributed equitably.

"We really have an opportunity to fund innovation," Aguilar said. "There are safety nets already, but not everyone accesses them and maybe there are barriers we don't always envision."

Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada, who has worked in the mental health field for 20 years, is one of bill co-sponsors.

"There are people sitting out there right now who need help that our mental health system is not able to provide," Kraft-Tharp said in a released statement. "We need a strong, comprehensive, integrated crisis system that provides appropriate and timely care."

Yesenia Robles: 303-954-1372, or