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EDITORIAL: Legislators should assail the mental health crisis
Gazette - 4/20/2021
Apr. 19—Despite Democrat-led efforts to prohibit plastic bags, hustle battery cars for the rich and ignore Colorado's housing crisis, all is not lost. If the legislative session ends well, this could be the year Colorado politicians achieve major progress toward resolving one of the state's most dire problems: a dearth of mental health care.
Democrats deserve support and accolades for running a series of bipartisan bills that directly address the mental health care crisis.
Improving mental health in Colorado and elsewhere is not a luxury concern the legislature and governor can address down the road. Too often we are reminded of the need for mental health treatment and intervention when it is far too late.
Relatives of the suspect in a Boulder mass murder this month knew he had emotional/behavioral/mental health issues long before he acted out with a gun. It was another in a litany of horrible crimes involving suspects who had signaled loneliness, depression, despair, anger, helplessness — or a combination of those and/or other destructive conditions — before committing murder.
Military, civilian, and adolescent suicide rates have risen at alarming rates for years for a variety of reasons. Early evidence indicates the loss, isolation, and general anxiety associated with the pandemic have exacerbated the mental health and suicide dilemma.
Every day that Colorado holds the course on mental health is another day of suicide, suffering, and people so distraught they might be on the verge of killing sprees.
Last week we urged the passage of House Bill 1021, which would fund more peer support professionals to work for mental health and substance abuse organizations. A slate of other bills is also making its way through the legislature, including:
— HB-1030. The law would expand a grant program to fund mental health support for law enforcement officers responding to calls for help involving mental health problems. The FBI last year interviewed the young former FedEx employee suspected of shooting up a FedEx facility last week in Indianapolis. His mother had told authorities her son might commit suicide-by-cop. Typically, law enforcement professionals lack the support and expertise needed to contend with mental health emergencies.
— House Bill 1068 would require health insurance plans to cover annual mental health wellness examinations of up to 60 minutes for each customer. Coverage of mental health screening has obvious benefits. Sadly, insurance mandates have a history of increasing the cost of insurance and decreasing the number who can afford it. This bill should become law if legislators and the governor can craft it in such a manner as to avoid aggravating problems for the uninsured.
— House Bill 1085 would establish a system to provide specialized emergency transportation for individuals in states of a mental or behavioral health crisis.
— House Bill 1097 would establish a state agency to lead, promote, and administer behavioral health priorities.
— House Bill 1119 would redefine "high-risk individual" to give more people access to the state's public-private Transition Specialist Program. The program, funded by the Colorado Department of Human Services Office of Behavioral Health, helps people with substance use and behavioral health disorders in their transitions from treatment facilities into the community.
— House Bill 1206 transitions regulation of non-emergency medical transportation of Medicaid patients from the Public Utilities Commission to the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing.
— House Bill 1258 would establish a temporary youth services program to address pandemic-related mental health issues. The law would sunset on June 30, 2022, unless reauthorized.
— House Bill 1273 would require the Department of Education to provide an annual report detailing the number of students enrolled in public schools, and the total number of licensed school psychologists employed by a school district, a board of cooperative services, or the state Charter School Institute.
— Senate Bill 032 would grant-fund a veteran-owned organization to operate a mobile veterans-support transportation unit for mental health.
— Senate Bill 129 would establish a veteran suicide prevention pilot program to provide no-cost, "stigma-free," confidential, behavioral health treatment for post-9/11 veterans and their families.
Those are just some of the bills addressing mental health, so Coloradans can rest assured their elected leaders are no longer neglecting behavioral and mental health as if it is the ugly stepchild of the more traditional health care sector.
As with all legislation, details will determine whether these bills do what the sponsors intend. Legislators should shift their collective focus to perfect these bills and make them a priority. Colorado should be the healthiest state in the union, physically and mentally, and can waste no time attaining this life-affirming stature.
(c)2021 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
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