Colorado’s Law for Dealing with Those in Mental Health Crisis Revisited by Task Force

January 5, 2017 Updated: January 5, 2017 at 2:33 pm

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A task force made recommendations this week in an effort to address a conundrum with mental health holds – that is, placement for those experiencing a mental health crisis – after Gov. John Hickenlooper last year vetoed legislation on the subject.

The task force was created after Hickenlooper in June expressed concerns with a bill that would have created a tiered system, where facilities designated for mental health holds would have been primary locations, but, if unavailable, the next tier would have been hospital emergency rooms.

Hickenlooper last year acknowledged that there is a problem with finding adequate facilities for such holds, but he feared the legislation would have eroded the individual right to due process, which is what sparked the creation of the task force.

The 30-member panel – which included lawmakers, law enforcement officials and health care professionals – came up with eight recommendations, including eliminating the use of jails for persons placed on mental health holds who have not been charged with or convicted of a crime.

Many of the recommendations mirror the intent of the legislation last year, though Hickenlooper appears more confident about the due process aspect of the effort after the task force investigated.

“Those experiencing mental health crises should get the treatment they need in the setting that is most appropriate for their care,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “We hope and expect that this effort will result in substantive changes to better the lives of Coloradans.”

Recommendations also include bolstering system capacity, streamlining regulations and maximizing the state’s existing behavioral health resources, understanding barriers to mental health inpatient care and developing a data tracking system to understand the scope of the problem.

The issue significantly impacts rural Colorado, where there is a lack of “designated facilities” to comply with the law, as well as a lack of facilities offering patients adequate mental health treatment. When a designated facility is unavailable, jail is often the only option.

Hickenlooper’s veto upset hospitals and lawmakers who had worked to pass the measure last year. Some suggested that the governor did not understand the legislation, leading to the veto.

In his veto letter, Hickenlooper wrote that the bill “allows advanced practice nurses to determine if a person should be committed to a mental health facility longer than 72 hours.”




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