In the wake of recent gun violence in Colorado and elsewhere, Governor John Hickenlooper wants the state to spend $18.5 million to strengthen Colorado’s mental health system. CPR Health Reporter Eric Whitney has details on the plan released Tuesday.
This is a transcript of Eric’s story.
Reporter Eric Whitney: At a Capitol press conference, the governor said he and his advisors got together just days after the Aurora movie theater shooting July 20th to come up with a response.
Gov. John Hickenlooper: We really have a duty after tragedies to look at what we do and how we act and how we help each other.
Reporter: Hickenlooper says Colorado has seen spending on mental health in the state decline for many years and that his plan aims to turn that around, in the name of public safety.
Hickenlooper: We believe these policies will reduce the probability of bad things happening to good people.
Reporter: The policies include adding nearly 160 new beds for the mentally ill and those recovering from mental illness. Twenty of those beds will be reserved for people in jail or prison, another thirty would be at new facilities for people transitioning out of inpatient mental health care. And the plan calls for 107 housing vouchers that would also give patients in those circumstances a place to live.
Most of the proposals will require buy-in from state lawmakers. Bob Gardner is a Republican Representative from El Paso County.
Gardner: I applaud the governor for his proposals, and I’m looking forward to working with the governor and other legislators to improve the mental health treatment system in Colorado.
Reporter: Gardner says it’s too early to say whether the $18.5 million Hickenlooper is budgeting is the right amount. He hopes it’s enough to make a difference, but on the other hand, it’s always a struggle to balance the state budget.
The governor says he carefully considered how much to spend.
Hickenlooper: We’re not just gonna throw tens of millions of dollars at this. We wanted to really look at where, for each dollar you spend, where do you get the maximum benefit? If we had another $20 million there’s many more things we could do. But this seemed, in terms of what is the most likely to increase the level of safety in the state, these seemed like the best investments.
Reporter: The governor also proposes a 24-hour statewide mental health crisis phone line. And he wants to open five “crisis stabilization centers” across the state people can drop into anytime of day or night.
Don Mares: We are excited that it really moves the dialog around mental health to a new level.
Reporter: That’s Don Mares, head of the advocacy group Mental Health America Colorado. His group made very similar proposals to improve mental health care in the metro area six years ago, but couldn’t find adequate funding to implement them all because of the recession.
Mares: This initiative you've announced today actually thrills us, because it takes the dialoge and all of the work of this group that was only talking about the metro area and blossoms it to a statewide system, that will actually really help folks who are in crisis, not just with a number to call, but also with the actual crisis centers where people can go get help. And so we are really excited about that.
Reporter: Beyond new spending, Hickenlooper’s plan also proposes speedier transfer of mental health records to gun dealers doing background checks. The governor also wants to reform Colorado’s laws for involuntarily committing people with mental illness who may be dangerous. Hickenlooper released few details on that proposal. A representative of the American Civil Liberties Union said he needs to know more about it before commenting specifically, but that he hopes the proposed changes don’t make involuntary commitment easier.
[Photo: Colorado Governor's Office]