OBH Forensic Services Response to COVID-19 pandemic

Forensic Services within the Office of Behavioral Health (OBH) provides evaluation, treatment and care coordination services to the forensic population statewide. Forensic clients are individuals who are diagnosed with mental health disorders, involved in the criminal justice system, and are either currently incarcerated or living in the community. To best serve this population, OBH’s Forensic Services team works across all settings, including the Colorado Mental Health Institutes, jails and the community. 

The impact on services due to COVID-19 has been significant, and the Forensic Services teams have implemented changes to programming and service delivery. Please visit the OBH COVID-19 Information webpage for the latest updates as we continue to monitor program needs. 

Outpatient Restoration 

The Outpatient Restoration Program surveyed community-based providers to determine barriers to serving clients and received responses from more than 60% of contractors, who said they needed video-enabled devices to help clients stay connected. The Outpatient Restoration Program then offered funding so providers could purchase video-enabled phones and data plans. In one case, a client used a tablet so a translator skilled in American Sign Language could join sessions. 

Forensic Support Team

  • Face-to-face visits: On March 23, all Forensic Navigator face-to-face jail visits were suspended. The Navigators communicate directly by phone with jail staff and/or jail mental health staff every seven days to receive updates on clients ordered to inpatient competency restoration and discuss progress toward restoration, client acuity and emergent concerns. The Forensic Support Team (FST) Program Coordinators continue to triage mental health emergencies. 

  • Community resources: The FST is assisting with the increase in case dismissals and orders converting inpatient restoration (in custody) to outpatient restoration (out of custody).  

  • Transportation and housing assistance: In April, the FST partnered with Rocky Mountain Human Services to provide additional support, including transportation and housing assistance and cell phones, to clients transitioning to outpatient restoration from the jail, the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo (CMHIP), RISE, and Peakview as well as clients whose cases are being dismissed. Learn more about these programs. For questions and to start the referral process, attorneys can email denise.cosgrove@state.co.us or work with their local Navigator. 

Jail-Based Restoration 

The Jail-Based Competency Restoration (JBR) team currently oversees three treatment locations: Arapahoe RISE, Boulder RISE, and several beds within Peak View Behavioral Health.  In response to COVID-19, the JBR team changed the admissions process, programming and staff schedules to accommodate social distancing recommendations. Beginning in March, JBR collaborated with CMHIP to put additional screening measures in place for all potential patients admitted to  programs and launched telehealth in April.  

To respond to the increase in court motions for dismissal and consideration of bond, the JBR Team, Forensic Support Team and program contractors identified patient needs in the community and pursued referral resources. Since March 2020, OBH has admitted 60 individuals to Jail Based Restoration programs, and 19 have been discharged to the community. Of those individuals, four were discharged to new restoration beds with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

Court Services

To address lockdowns at many jails due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Court Services clinical team researched, drafted, vetted and trained staff to implement a video-conferencing policy for competency evaluations. Effective April 10, the Department suspended all in-person evaluations in the community. The assigned evaluator for each competency evaluation case worked with jails to pursue video-conference evaluations, which have been successful in rural jails like Logan County. The Department purchased and distributed Chromebooks to the six jails with the largest number of pending evaluations to conduct video evaluations. The Office of Information Technology also provided technical assistance to jails, and 16 are conducting video competency evaluations when possible. 

The Department is partnering with the Bridges Court Liaisons to coordinate competency evaluations with clients in the community. Bridges Court Liaisons have secured devices through federal and state programs and are working with Court Services to to schedule appointments in May. In April, 18 new contracts were executed for competency evaluations, bringing the total to 24. All new contractors have participated in six hours of onboarding training. 

Forensic Community Based Services

The Forensic Community Based Services (FCBS) team assists persons found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity who are transitioning from an inpatient hospital setting into a community-based outpatient setting. The FCBS team of case managers, conditional release coordinators and psychiatric providers are assisting clients whose regular treatment has been disrupted, coaching clients through anxiety and uncertainty, lending support to those in recovery and connecting clients with available resources. Staff members follow strict social distancing measures to visit clients at risk of decompensating, allowing clients to quickly get routed to higher levels of care.