Nearly $20 million approved for revamp of mental health system

Yesenia Robles | Denver Post

A $10 million request from Gov. John Hickenlooper to fund improvements in the state's mental health system was approved Tuesday — and doubled to $20 million — as an alternative proposal drafted by the health centers themselves was incorporated in pieces.

The Joint Budget Committee's approval includes full funding for Hickenlooper's $10.3 million plan, which proposed a statewide crisis hotline and walk-in centers that would be open 24-hours a day and seven days a week.

The recommendations, however, were silent on just how many crisis-stabilization centers the state should fund.

Hickenlooper proposed putting out a bid for five centers across the state, but the Colorado Behavioral Health Council later suggested using just $1.27 million more to fund 13 centers. Mental health experts drafted the recommendations, saying it would be a better use of funds to strengthen existing centers and support a more equitable system.

Because there were "several ideas out there," budget committee members approved the funding as a placeholder amount. Another legislator is expected to introduce a bill this session to work out the details of the crisis-response system that the funding should create.

"We're thrilled the JBC found it fit to both support the governor's proposal, but also to expand these resources," said Peggy Hill, the chief operating officer for the health council. "With the increase in funding the JBC is placeholding, I think there's plenty of room for conversation there."

The funding was doubled by senior legislative analyst Kevin Neimond, who said that while the request "mirrors what's out there," his research found gaps.

"Most literature that I found also suggests there are two other components that are pretty important," Neimond said during the hearing. "The first of those being mobile crisis services."

An additional $9.5 million would fund mobile crisis teams, respite services and short-term residential services — all of which were items proposed in the Colorado Behavioral Health Council's alternative proposal.

Mental health centers across the state have already been working on expanding their mobile crisis teams, and allowing them to go to more places, including people's homes.

Leaders from the state's mental health centers had also expressed concerns about the implementation of Hickenlooper's plan and its ability to create a unified statewide system.

The recommendations left out any suggestions on addressing that issue.

Yesenia Robles: 303-954-1372, or