Prior to the 2020 pandemic, Kelly Blike described the behavioral health situation of Colorado’s teens and adults as a pot of boiling water, filled to the brim. Now this pot is overflowing without containment at the site.
âThere’s always been a mental health crisis in Colorado, COVID just echoed it,â said Blike, a social worker at UCHealth Highlands Ranch Hospital. âThe isolation and lack of physical contact exaggerated a problem that was already in place. We cannot ignore the problem. We have a long way to go. “
As businesses and life appear to be returning to normal after the pandemic, Blike said hospitals are still grappling with the residual effects.
Dr Ben Usatch, director of emergency medicine at Highlands Ranch Hospital, said the 21-bed emergency room accommodates a handful of patients requiring mental health care every day. The numbers aren’t going down, and he doesn’t think they will anytime soon.
âThere is a post-COVID syndrome that we are going to clean up for a long time,â he said.
In June, Children’s Hospital Colorado (CHC) declared a crisis. The state-wide organization has reported an increase in the number of young patients attempting suicide and presenting to local emergency rooms for addiction and eating disorder issues.
CHC has facilities around the Denver metro area at Highlands Ranch, Broomfield, Centennial, Parker, Wheat Ridge, Denver and Aurora.
Dr. Jenna Glover, director of psychology training at CHC, said in recent years there has been a decrease in suicide attempts and emergency room visits for behavioral health over the summer months. . This is not the case this year.
“We expect these visits to peak as children return to a ‘normal’ school year where they may face challenges with setbacks in their education and in-person interactions,” she said.
Usatch said he’s never seen so many teenage patients being admitted to hospital because the drug and alcohol addiction has become debilitating.
Blike said during the pandemic, parents struggled to cope with restrictions, changes and finances. It is not surprising that children and adolescents have been equally badly affected, she said.
In June, CHC called on the state legislature to step up and start helping them deal with the growing crisis. Since the call for help, Sarah Davis, media relations coordinator for CHC, said lawmakers took a step forward in the 2021 legislative session.
Heidi Baskfield, CHC’s vice president of population health and advocacy, said the passage of Senate Bill 137, the Behavioral Health Recovery Act, is a step in the right direction. The new law provides for short-term investments in critical priority areas such as community emergency services for young people, additional residential beds and more resources for school health centers.
Another step in the right direction, Baskfield said, is Bill 1258. The bill, Rapid Mental Health Response for Colorado Youth, establishes a temporary program to facilitate youth mental health services in response to identified needs. .
On June 18, Governor Jared Polis enacted HB 1258 in a special ceremony that included bipartisan support from Representatives Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City and Kevin Van Winkle, R-Highlands Ranch and Sens. Janet Buckner, D -Aurora, and Rob Woodward, R-Loveland.
As the bill was signed by Polis, Van Winkle said HB 1258 is one of the most important pieces of legislation passed in the 2021 session.
Michaelson Jenet sponsored both HB 1258 and SB 137. The Adams County representative said when she ran for office her main platform was youth mental health. After the 2021 session, Michaelson Jenet said she was happy both bills passed because they are not just band-aiders on a growing problem. These are real steps forward to help a lot of people, she said.
âFor years I have been drumming as we are in a suicide pandemic,â said Michaelson Jenet. â(HB 1258) opens access to children who are not getting the support they need right now. It will help all demographics and all ages.
Baskfield said the rapid response program will provide young people with easy access to testing and treatment through an app-based testing tool. The $ 9 million bill will create the Temporary Youth Mental Health Services Program, which will reimburse providers for three mental health sessions for young patients.
To put into perspective what HB 1258 can do for Colorado’s youth, Michaelson Jenet noted that the text of the bill says it will help 26,000 young people. However, she believes it will help reach thousands more, as the tools are available for free.
Michaelson Jenet said the bills passed in 2021 are just a stepping stone – the state has a long way to go in recovering from mental health issues in adults and adolescents.