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Springs lawmakers to introduce bipartisan mental health bills

Posted at 6:28 PM, Mar 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-25 22:00:38-04

DENVER – There have been some polarizing votes on bills in the state capitol this session, in particular over the so-called red flag bill. This week, two lawmakers from Colorado Springs are putting aside their party differences to work together one of the big issues to come out of that debate: the need for better access to mental healthcare.

State Senator Pete Lee, a Democrat, and State Rep. Lois Langraf, a Republican, are co-sponsoring a pair of mental healthcare-related bills that aim to expand the state’s safety net for individuals at risk of institutionalization.

“It’s just a huge problem in Colorado,” Landgraf said.

“We are trying to stitch together a safety net without holes in it,” Lee explained.

One of the obvious problems of our state’s mental health care infrastructure has been the months of time that it takes for criminal defendants to see a court-ordered psychiatrist at the state hospital in Pueblo.

“We don’t want people languishing in jail for 2, 3, 4, 5 months waiting to be restored to competency, particularly on low-level offenses,” Lee said.

That backlog of competency evaluations and inpatient restorations has led to civil rights lawsuits against the state. It’s also forced the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo to stop admitting civil psychiatric patients.

Taxpayers fund another 94 in-patient psychiatric beds, but all are located in the Denver metro area, creating large geographic barriers to access.

“This safety net (legislation) is really a great starting place to start tying things together and looking long range,” Landgraf explained.

The bills will task the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to create incentives for health care providers to expand in-patient mental health treatment options in communities statewide.

The lawmaker’s vision is to see more Coloradoans in crisis getting treatment before they hurt themselves or others and end up waiting for care behind bars.

The safety net bills are expected to be introduced in the State Senate on Tuesday.