Originally Published in by Jan Wonder in Ark Valley Voice
Lawmakers in the Colorado Senate have introduced a pair of bills aimed at improving access to Colorado’s behavioral healthcare system by improving and increasing the state’s healthcare workforce. Together the two bills would invest $84.2 million to expand the behavioral healthcare workforce and better connect Coloradans with the care they need.
For the past several months, an examination of the state’s behavioral health resources by the Colorado News Collaborative (of which Ark Valley Voice is a member) has revealed significant shortfalls across some of the 17 regions which serve Colorado residents’ mental health needs. At the same time, the state announced that it is investing $450 million to improve access to behavioral health in Colorado.
The additional legislation was developed based on recommendations from the state’s Behavioral Health Transformational Task Force announced in Jan. 2022:
SB22-181: Behavioral Healthcare Workforce Development Sponsored by Sens. Jeff Bridges (D-Greenwood Village) and Cleave Simpson (R-Alamosa), Reps. Lisa Cutter (D-Jefferson County) and Tonya Van Beber (R-Weld County)
This bill directs the Behavioral Health Administration (BHA) to develop plans to invest $72 million to bolster and stabilize the state’s behavioral healthcare workforce, which will help more Coloradans access the critical care they need to thrive.
“If we want to achieve our goal of transforming Colorado’s behavioral health system, we need a robust workforce to help us do it,” said Sen. Bridges. “With this bill, we’re going to make a significant investment to expand our behavioral health workforce so we can address our workforce shortage, better meet the needs of patients, and improve patient outcomes.”
“As we invest $450 million to improve access to behavioral health in Colorado, we’re taking aggressive action to attract, train and retain the providers we need to provide that quality care,” said Rep. Cutter. “There is a significant shortage of behavioral healthcare providers in Colorado, and this bill will start to address this challenge by taking a multi-pronged approach that focuses on recruitment, training, and collaborative partnerships. A large portion of the funding will go toward scholarships and loan forgiveness for behavioral healthcare students and training programs to prepare young people for a career in behavioral healthcare.”
The bill will invest a total of $72 million, including:
$10 million to improve recruiting and retaining providers who better represent the communities they serve.
$6 million to help Colorado colleges and universities promote the behavioral health field and to allow students to participate in activities like job shadowing and internships that expose them to the behavioral health field and create a level playing field so students of all backgrounds can explore a career in behavioral health.
$20 million for the Colorado Health Service Corps, an existing program that allows care providers working in designated health professional shortage areas to apply for funding to repay qualifying educational loans.
$20 million to create a behavioral healthcare training curriculum administered by the Colorado Community College System.
$6 million to expand the number of peer support specialists in Colorado. Peer support specialists are individuals with lived experience who can help others going through similar experiences, and are a critical component of the behavioral health workforce.
$5 million to offer professional development opportunities that improve skills for behavioral healthcare professionals to better serve people in the criminal justice system, improve cultural competency and expand professional development opportunities for both a licensed and unlicensed workforce.
$5 million to further leverage existing workforce development programs, establish standards to ensure a quality workforce and reduce administrative burden so that providers can spend more time focusing on patient care.
SB22-177: Investments in Statewide Care Coordination Infrastructure Sponsored by Senator Brittany Pettersen (D-Lakewood) and Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale) and Reps. Brianna Titone (D-Arvada) and Mary Bradfield (R-Colorado Springs)
This bill appropriates $12.2 million to improve Colorado’s statewide care coordination infrastructure to better serve Coloradans seeking behavioral healthcare. The bill requires the BHA to better train new and existing behavioral healthcare navigators on available behavioral health safety net system services and delivery, and on ways to better connect individuals seeking care with the support they need.
The bill also seeks to cut red tape associated with provider enrollment and credentialing for navigators and care coordination providers, so they can spend less time on paperwork and more time helping Coloradans in need.
“While there will always be more work to do to expand and improve our behavioral healthcare system, we need to make sure Coloradans can fully utilize already existing behavioral health services,” said Sen. Pettersen. “With this new infusion of funds, we can more quickly and efficiently connect Coloradans with care they need. Behavioral healthcare navigators will be well equipped to help Coloradans navigate these complex systems to deliver quality, accessible services to those that need the most support.”
“It can be far too difficult to navigate Colorado’s behavioral healthcare system, so a crucial part of our efforts will be to improve care coordination to help people cut through the red tape that can be a barrier to accessing the care they need,” said Rep. Titone. “With this bill, behavioral healthcare providers will have better tools to connect patients with providers and other specialists who can help them access the care they need when they need it.”