Letter: Bill falls short on mental health

There is a missing piece in the current Senate Bill 169 on Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk: psychiatric care

Being placed in a hospital or a jail in the middle of a mental-health crisis tops any person’s worst-day-ever list. None of us hopes to reach that point, nor do we hope our family members or friends suffer through such a time without proper psychiatric care.

Much of the conversation surrounding the bill, which aims to broaden the location where a person can be held under an emergency mental-health procedure, focuses on redefining the hold location rather than on the type of treatment offered during a crisis. This focus is shortsighted and overlooks the fact that people in crisis need access to the right treatment at the right time. Psychiatric treatment, the missing piece of this conversation, is simply the right treatment to offer those when they need it most.

While the bill offers some improvements over the current system, it does not ensure that those who need mental-health treatment have adequate access to psychiatric care. The driver in this statewide problem is that we do not have enough psychiatric hospital beds, period. Colorado’s Western Slope, for example, lacks some 32 psychiatric hospital beds needed to care for its population. And the number of people in crisis continues to grow.

Mind Springs Health’s “Building Sanctuary, Rebuilding Lives” plan seeks to remedy this situation by essentially doubling the size of its West Springs Hospital in Grand Junction, the only psychiatric hospital between Denver and Salt Lake City. But so much more needs to be done. We need to think and act beyond Senate Bill 169 to secure the mental-health care facilities essential for bringing about lasting health and resilience in our communities throughout Colorado.

Sharon Raggio

President and CEO, Mind Springs Health