Colorado lawmakers must help children in acute mental health crisis

By Jake Swanton, originally published in Westword

Suicide is the leading cause of death for Colorado youth and the Crisis Resolution Team bill would codify existing work into law

In recent years, Colorado has contended with a shocking increase in the number of youth under age 21 experiencing depression and thoughts of self-harm. The state’s emergency rooms have reported a staggering 158 percent increase in visits by young people between 2016 and 2021. Equally devastating is that suicide is the leading cause of death for youth in Colorado. Sadly, gaps in our mental health care system are leading to more children in crisis — and families relying on costly emergency room visits as their only option. Compounding the problem, once discharged, youth often have little to turn to for ongoing assistance.

Legislation that would invest in the state’s mental health crisis system, Crisis Resolution Team Program (HB24-1019), offers a meaningful step toward closing this gap for high-need youth by offering services to children and teens in their homes. By bringing services to them, it will help them stay out of the Emergency Department, which is often not the appropriate place to get the care they need.

Bill Prime Sponsors: (image of) Rep Mary Bradfield, (image of) Rep Judy Amabile, (image of) Sen. Rhonda Fields, (image of) Sen. Rod Pelton

Sponsored by state representatives Judy Amabile and Mary Bradfield and state senators Rhonda Fields and Rod Pelton, this bill would fund crisis resolution team services designed to respond to youth under age 21 with acute behavioral needs. The program would deploy trained professionals to calm and support children and youth in crisis, offering four to six weeks of continued services — including counseling, case management and family support — that have been proven to have a long-term positive impact.

Similar in-home and community-based interventions have helped other states prevent over 90 percent of children and teens they serve from going to the ED or being hospitalized. This is obviously beneficial to the families and youth who are getting the care and support they need, but it is also a clear benefit to taxpayers who bear the cost of an increasing number of preventable hospital visits, many of which are from uninsured Coloradans or those enrolled in Medicaid, which drives billions of dollars in state spending every year.

Note: We reached out to Jake Swanton for a follow-up on the Crisis Response Team bill. He said, "There aren't a lot of policy dollars for these types of programs now." Still, although achieving passage of the bill would be a "Hail Mary" action, he continues to believe in the essential aspect of in-community stabilization for youth in crisis. "It needs to be part of the continuum of care," he said. Codifying it into state statute would be one way to make that happen.

HB 1019 passed the Health & Human Services committee, but has been stranded in House Appropriations since its introduction in January, likely due to its $2.6 million price tag. Thirty-three state agencies, counties and healthcare associations and four national mental health advocacy organizations support this bill.

Colorado resident Jake Swanton is vice president of State Affairs at Inseparable, a national nonprofit working to make mental health care accessible to all by closing the treatment gap, improving crisis response and championing evidence-based interventions for youth.

Read the original piece here.

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