Colorado’s health care system scored 17th for COVID-19 response, but ranked among the five worst states for mental health, alcohol deaths and suicides, according to survey.

Dean Humphrey/COLab
Mind Springs, one of 17 regional community health centers in Colorado, cut outpatient services after it opened a new $34 million psychiatric hospital in Grand Junction in 2018.

Colorado hospitals’ response to COVID-19 ranked 17th among all 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to The Commonwealth Fund’s national health care scorecard, an annual report that ranks state health care systems on various metrics based on how well states provide high-quality, accessible and equitable health care.

For the first time, the scorecard focused specifically on how well states managed COVID-19 from 2020 to early 2022.

Anuj Mehta, a pulmonary care physician at Denver Health, told CPR in March while Colorado's COVID-19 numbers are better in recent weeks than earlier in the pandemic, “most hospitals remain incredibly busy with non-COVID patients who are much sicker and tend to stay in the hospital for longer periods of time than before the pandemic.” 

He said health care systems across the state continue to face significant staffing issues, which may worsen as health care workers “finally take a moment to reflect on the immense psychological trauma they have suffered in the last two years.”

Colorado ranked 12th in fully vaccinated adults who also received a booster dose with 44 percent of Colorado adults having received a vaccine and booster shot.

The state also ranked 12th best in preventing excess deaths associated with COVID-19 with 281 deaths per 100,000 people in the state. 

The lowest COVID-19 metric was in the number of hospital shortages. Colorado hospitals went 59 days with shortages placing the state 28th nationally. 

Colorado’s overall good ranking comes with severe pain points in suicides, alcohol-related deaths, and mental health

Colorado ranked 12th overall in health care performance. Hawaii, Maine, Vermont, Washington and Oregon landed in the top five. Alabama, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Mississippi and Georgia rounded out the bottom.

The state saw its highest marks in hospital patient experience and fitness, but also in preventable hospitalizations. It also saw its highest improvements in hospital 30-day mortality, the number of adults who report fair or poor health and avoidable ER visits.

However the good numbers came with some stark reminders of Colorado’s mental health crises.

The state ranked among the worst at 45th in deaths by suicide, 46th in alcohol related deaths — which nearly doubled from 15 deaths per 100,000 people to 24 deaths per 100,000. The state also saw drug overdoses severely increase along with the rest of the nation. 

“We have had some of the nation's highest rates of adult and youth suicide. We've got an opioid epidemic on our hands,” said Vincent Atchity, the President and CEO of the non-profit Mental Health Colorado. “So we're in a critical condition on the extreme side of things in so many ways.”

One glaring metric was a 10 percent jump in adults with unmet mental illness needs, up to 32 percent. Colorado ranked 48th in that category.