mental health

A cohort of more than two dozen elected officials and community members on Monday kicked off crafting recommendations to use $450 million in federal dollars to create “transformational change” in Colorado’s behavioral health system.

The Behavioral Health Subpanel is charged with developing recommendations to be considered by the Behavioral Health Transformational Task Force, a panel of lawmakers and public officials tasked by legislation passed last session to create recommendations for lawmakers and Gov. Jared Polis on policies to create transformational change using funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

The subpanel’s first meeting was largely dedicated to setting a baseline for future meetings. Members hailing from organizations such as One Colorado, the Asian Pacific Development Center and the Harm Reduction Action Center collaborated with others representing health care providers, insurers, law enforcement and municipal and county governments.

Through the course of the six-hour meeting, the subpanel broadly came to consensus on goals to work towards in future meetings, including enhancing affordability and accessibility, boosting the behavioral health workforce and reducing barriers to meet Coloradans where they are with an emphasis on transparency and accountability throughout.

Those goals developed into a series of strategic pillars to help guide the subpanel’s work toward achieving the outcomes it hopes to see. Included among those were: a focus on preventative and wraparound services, the behavioral health system’s funding and affordability, workforce development, a separate focus on treatment and continuum of care and entry into the behavioral health system.

Though the meeting was largely introductory in nature, Sen. Brittany Pettersen urged the subpanel to think big.

“A priority is making sure that your proposals are transformative for the long run — we've seen plenty of Band-Aid approaches and that's the problem with our system: it's very disjointed, it isn't fully funded, it isn't coordinated,” said Pettersen, a Lakewood Democrat who is chairing the Behavioral Health Transformational Task Force. Pettersen was one of five lawmakers from that panel that tuned into Monday’s proceedings.

But she also warned the subpanel of the limitations that come along with using one-time dollars.

“We also want to make sure that these funds are not going to have ongoing General Fund commitments,” Pettersen added, calling for policies that are budget-neutral in the long run. “We can still make some changes in statute with current funding streams if there's a better way to do i t... but we want to make sure that what we're doing is sustainable.”

The subpanel is next set to meet on Sept. 13 with an eye toward drafting recommendations by October and sending them to Pettersen’s panel by November.

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