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Governor Polis Signs Bill to Fill Gaps in our Mental Health System for Colorado Kids

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Colorado youth are in crisis and on Thursday, the governor did something about it.

Governor Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 19-195 into law at a ceremony held at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora. The bipartisan bill (Sens. Fields/Gardner and Reps. Froelich/Landgraf) addresses Colorado’s youth mental health crisis in part by providing high-quality, standardized screening and assessments to identify childhood behavioral health needs earlier. It also offers comprehensive “wraparound” care coordination services to get kids the right care at the right time, and facilitates a new and innovative funding strategy across state and local government agencies to better integrate behavioral health services and supports for children. Taken together, these approaches are a big step in the right direction to dramatically improve our state’s behavioral health system for kids.

 At a ceremony at Children’s Hospital Colorado packed with team members, healthcare advocates, community organizations and families, Governor Polis signed the bill with all four bill sponsors present: Senators Rhonda Fields and Bob Gardner and Representatives Meg Froelich and Lois Landgraf. Kari Eckert, a mother who lost her son, Robbie, to suicide, gave remarks about the importance of the bill. And youth advocates Kate Hartman, 10, and Lucy Hartman, 8, presented Governor Polis, the bill sponsors and Kari with “superhero” capes to thank them for their work on this important legislation.

 “If a child has cancer, families know where to go to get help and how to get it. With mental health, we have a fragmented set of programs, caregivers don’t know how to access the services that are available, and the programs are so limited that many don’t have access at all,” says Jena Hausmann, Children’s Colorado’s president and CEO. “This bill is how we begin to change that.”

 Suicide is the leading cause of death for kids ages 10 to 24 in Colorado, and an estimated one out of every six teens has a diagnosable mental health condition. Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus alone has seen a 600% increase in child and youth hospital admissions for attempted suicide in the last decade.

 “We have a suicide crisis in our state,” says Governor Jared Polis. “Colorado needs to do a better job serving those struggling with mental health. It’s time we work together as a state to implement bold solutions to address this crisis. I’m proud to sign SB-195, which improves mental health access for children and teens in need of help, into law today as one of the many ways we’re working to transform our mental health system for kids.”

 Governor Polis recently announced the formation of the Colorado Behavioral Health Task Force — a group tasked with evaluating Colorado’s existing systems and then setting a road map for the state’s behavioral health efforts including a focus on children and youth.

 “The gaps in our state’s mental health system won’t be solved over night, but together we are taking a big step toward a more comprehensive system to support our kids,” says Sen. Rhonda Fields. “We need to continue to make youth mental health a top priority— the time for change is now.”

 One family who knows all too well what can happen when a child doesn’t receive appropriate mental health screening and treatment are Kari and Jason Eckert, who reside in Golden and tragically, lost their 15-year-old son, Robbie, to suicide last year.

 “We didn’t know Robbie was struggling. There are a lot of teens struggling with stress, anxiety and depression, and people aren’t talking about it. Our teens are carrying a lot and they’re carrying it alone,” says Kari Eckert. “Mental health is treatable and suicide is preventable. With this bill, our state can be a leader in how we approach mental health and mental health treatment moving forward.”

 

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