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Funding for multi-agency team responding to mental health emergencies set to run out next year

Posted at 2:37 AM, May 17, 2024

COLORADO SPRINGS — Funding for a portion of a multi-agency team responding to mental health emergencies in Colorado Springs is set to run out next summer, leaving officials searching for another way to keep the resource alive.

The Community Response Team (CRT) includes a Colorado Springs Fire Department (CSFD) paramedic, a Colorado Springs Police officer, and a mental health technician with Diversus Health. The program has four CRT units and was created to better respond to patients suffering behavioral health crises who call 911 or the state's crisis line.

Colorado Springs Fire Chief Randy Royal said state grant funding allows the department to contribute resources to the team. However, he said the funding will run out next June.

"We just found that out maybe three weeks ago that it's going to run out," he said. "There are some budget cuts and there's a lot of programs similar to ours that all got cut during this time."

The Colorado Behavioral Health Administration (BHA), which provides the CRT grant funding to the fire department, said this session legislators cut $2 million from BHA's criminal justice diversion program for the state fiscal year 2024-2025. A BHA spokesperson said those funds were intended to expand co-responder programs across Colorado.

BHA said it has since opted to allocate one-time funding for affected agencies, like CSFD, using community mental health block grant funds. BHA said the one-time funding will be given out in FY25.

"We would love to see that happen and we would take advantage of that. But we also are proactively always looking for grants to keep these programs going," said Chief Royal.

Luke Dirks, Acute Programs Director for Diversus Health, said the state grant funding they use to assign behavioral health specialists to CRT calls is also up in the air. Their funds come from a different pool of state grants than the ones used by the fire department. Dirks said after the state transitioned the Office of Behavioral Health to the Behavioral Health Administration, the future of their grants became uncertain.

"Changes create uncertainty. So in the coming year, what that funding will look like is a question mark. The BHA has said multiple times that they're very committed to supporting crisis services. But what exactly that looks like and what the funding will be is unknown right now just because things are in change," said Dirks.

The Colorado Springs Police Department said it uses general fund money to fund officers on CRT as part of their regularly scheduled shifts and are not impacted by the changes in state funding.

The fire department said CRT helps connect patients with resources on the scene instead of transporting them to the hospital.

"Before we started having those programs, we would transport those patients almost 100% of the time to the hospital, but the hospitals weren't set up to care for them," said Chief Royal

He said with CRT responding to mental health emergencies, only 15% of patients are transported to the hospital. Chief Royal said crises are de-escalated on scene 60% of the time and 25% of patients are taken to in-patient or out-patient treatment.

Chief Royal said the recently proposed EMS Enterprise could help generate revenue to fund CRT if no other long-term grant funding is locked down.

"I believe we'll have sustainable funding in that to keep that funded into the future. If the state comes with another year of funding, that's great. We'll continue to look for those grant opportunities," said Chief Royal.
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