Gov. Polis and Behavioral Health Task Force release blueprint

DENVER (Sept. 23, 2020) — Today Governor Polis, Lt. Governor Dianne Primavera and the Colorado Behavioral Health Task Force (BHTF) released Behavioral Health in Colorado: Putting People First, a blueprint to reform the state’s behavioral health system. The BHTF, initiated by the Governor and led by the Colorado Department of Human Services, met for more than a year, engaging with communities across the state, to create a blueprint to make substance use and mental health services more accessible and affordable across the state. 

“We want Colorado’s system to be the model for other states considering how to improve mental health care,” said Governor Jared Polis. “I know this has been countless hours of work on behalf of Coloradans and want to acknowledge all that has been accomplished. I look forward to helping streamline services, reduce duplication, and put customers first so that every Coloradan experiencing behavioral health issues can access timely, high-quality services in their communities in a cost-efficient manner.”

Among many bold reforms, the BHTF recommended establishing a statewide behavioral health administration, a new state agency or entity within an agency that will consolidate all non insurance based behavioral health funding and oversee behavioral health services to ensure that services respond to and meet Coloradans’ needs. The BHTF also recommended increasing tele-behavioral health services and implementing regional care coordination to assist consumers with navigating behavioral health services.

“Behavioral health is just as critical as our physical health and we must create a system that better serves all Coloradans, but especially those suffering with mental health or substance use issues,” said Lt. Governor Dianne Primavera, member of the Behavioral Health Task Force. “I’m proud of the hard work this task force has done to create a plan that will outline ways to better serve those who have historically faced barriers to care. Too many Coloradans have lost a loved one to suicide or substance use, so while I’m proud of what we’ve done so far, I know this is just the beginning.”

Governor Polis established the task force in April 2019 in response to an increasing need for behavioral health services. An estimated one million Coloradans have a behavioral health condition, yet Colorado ranks in the bottom half of states in access to care, according to a 2020 analysis by Mental Health America. Colorado also has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation, while deaths from overdose reached an all time high in 2019, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

To inform the plan, hundreds of Coloradans shared their experiences with the current system and dozens of providers, advocates, community leaders and consumers served on three subcommittees and a COVID-19 special assignment committee to offer recommendations.

“Today is about you, Colorado,” said CDHS Executive Director Michelle Barnes, chair of the BHTF executive committee. “I am thrilled to bring forward a bold blueprint that is people-centered and full of ideas and innovation from a variety of stakeholders from across the state. This is true system reform, and I am incredibly proud of this work and everyone who participated.”

In phase one of the blueprint, the State intends to create the behavioral health administration, expand tele-behavioral health services, and identify legislative opportunities and new funding sources.

About the Colorado Behavioral Health Task Force

On April 8, 2019, Gov. Jared Polis directed the Colorado Department of Human Services to spearhead Colorado’s Behavioral Health Task Force. The mission of the task force was to evaluate and set the roadmap to improve the current behavioral health system in the state.

Watch the press conference on the Governor’s Facebook page.