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Legislation invests $72 million to help more Coloradans access needed critical care

Today, Governor Jared Polis signed into law a bipartisan bill that supporters say will help bolster Colorado’s critical behavioral health care workforce.

SB22-181 was championed by Senators Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village, and Cleave Simpson, R-Alamosa, and Representatives Lisa Cutter, D-Jefferson County, and Tonya Van Beber, R-Weld County. It directs the new Behavioral Health Administration (BHA) to develop and implement a workforce plan to invest $72 million to bolster, diversify, and stabilize the state’s behavioral health care workforce.

The dome of the Colorado State Capitol. Photo by The Colorado Independent

“If we want to achieve our goal of transforming Colorado’s behavioral health system, then we need a robust workforce to help us do it,” said Bridges. “This new law is a significant investment that will expand our behavioral health workforce and allow us to address our workforce shortage, better meet the needs of patients, and improve patient outcomes.”

“This year, we worked to address the most pressing issues in our community. In Colorado, too many people are struggling to access or pay for the behavioral health care they need to thrive,” said Cutter. “The legislation Governor Polis signed today is part of the total $450 million investment of federal funds to help us meet this challenge by boosting our health care workforce and recruiting and retaining the providers Colorado needs. The law will save providers money as they pursue their education and go through the credentialing process and create new pathways for people entering mental health professions.”

SB22-181 will invest a total of $72 million to support Colorado’s behavioral health workforce, including:

  • $10 million to recruit and retain providers who better represent the communities they serve.
  • $6 million to help Colorado colleges and universities promote the behavioral health field and to allow students to participate in activities like job shadowing and internships so students of all backgrounds can explore a career in behavioral health.
  • $20 million for the Colorado Health Service Corps, an existing program that allows behavioral health care providers working in designated health professional shortage areas to apply for funding to repay qualifying educational loans.
  • $20 million to create and implement a behavioral health care training program that provides tiered advancement opportunities in collaboration with community colleges and institutions of higher education.
  • $6 million to expand the number of peer support specialists in Colorado. Peer support specialists are individuals with lived experience who can help others going through similar experiences, and are a critical component of the behavioral health workforce.
  • $5 million to offer professional development opportunities that improve skills for behavioral health care professionals to better serve people in the criminal justice system, improve cultural competency, and expand professional development opportunities.
  • $5 million to further leverage existing workforce development programs, establish standards to ensure a quality workforce, and reduce administrative burden so that providers can spend more time focusing on patient care.

The legislation was developed based on recommendations from the state’s Behavioral Health Transformational Task Force. Solvista Health Executive Director Brian Turner served on the task force that recommended major changes to how the state addresses mental health. Solvista Health is one of Colorado’s 17 behavioral health nonprofits providing mental health services and is the provider for Chaffee, Lake, Fremont, and Custer counties.

Featured image: The gold dome of the Colorado State Capitol. Photo by The Colorado Independent.