April 1, 2022 | NEWS | By April Kwan

In an effort to help the people of Colorado –– a state with high rates of mental health conditions, according to Fox 31 News –– improve their mental health, representatives introduced bill HB22-1278, which went under session by the Colorado House Appropriations Committee on March 2. This bill would create the Behavioral Health Administration (BHA) within the Department of Human Services to focus on allocating more mental health resources. If the bill passes, the BHA will have established these additional resources by July 1, 2024, according to leg.colorado.gov:

  • A statewide behavioral health grievance system
  • A behavioral health performance monitoring system 
  • A comprehensive behavioral health safety net system
  • Regionally based behavioral health administrative service organizations
  • The BHA as the licensing authority for all behavioral health entities
  • The BHA advisory council to provide feedback to the BHA on the behavioral health system in the state

HB22-1278 is a bipartisan state bill that is primarily sponsored by Democrat Representative Mary Young, Republican Representative Rod Pelton,  Democrat Senator Pete Lee, and Republican Senator Cleave Simpson.

If passed, HB22-1278 will create a cohesive behavioral health system in Colorado. The newly created BHA would take over behavioral health programs that are currently being handled by the Office of Behavioral Health in the Department of Human Services. Moreover, the bill will allocate someone appointed by the Governor and the State Board of Human Services as the head of the BHA. This person will have the authority to amend and revise rules.

In January, Gov. Jared Polis chose Dr. Morgan Medlock for this role. Dr. Medlock told Fox 31 News that, “we are building on the foundations we laid during the Behavioral Health Task Force of 2019, and fulfilling our promises to the people of Colorado.”

The goal is to improve mental health outcomes and provide more resources for people. It mainly focuses on behavioral conditions that affect wellness, such as alcohol and substance abuse, gambling addiction, and more. The bill does not look to replace current programs in place, but to ensure broader coordination between existing systems.

The primary sponsors of the bill also stressed that suicide is a leading cause of death for young people in Colorado.

Representative Young told Fox 31 News that “Coloradans with mental health issues too often end up in jail or homeless rather than in the caring and capable hands of mental health providers who can meet their needs and put them on a path toward a happy, healthy life.” She said, “I’m proud to sponsor HB 1278 to strengthen our mental health safety net to ensure better care for Colorado families.”

Despite this, there has been push back from the 17 community mental health centers in Colorado. Dr. Carl Clark, president of the Mental Health Center of Denver, told the Colorado Sun that, “[The bill] fractures the system. The way it’s written right now, there’s actually no incentive to be a comprehensive provider.”

Dr. Clark said, “you open this up, essentially to the free market, and people are going to pick and choose. I think we’ll have counties that have no access to mental health services. They have the idea that if we add competition, it will improve services. I don’t think we’re going to compete to take care of people who are in involuntary treatment or take care of people that are going in and out of jail, or to take care of people that don’t have a place to live.”

On March 25, bill HB22-1278 passed committee with 10 votes in support, one vote in opposition, and two members excused themselves from voting.

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