Two bills signed into law Tuesday afternoon outside North Range Behavioral Health in Greeley are expected to bolster Colorado’s behavioral health response at a critical time.
Gov. Jared Polis, joined by Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera, state Rep. Mary Young and state senator Jerry Sonnenberg, signed a bill on Tuesday to establish the consultation and access program in Colorado Pediatric Psychiatry within the University of Colorado, among other credits to support behavioral and mental health efforts for children, families, and schools. The bill was sponsored by Sonnenberg, Young, Sen. Chris Kolker and Rep. Rod Pelton.
“This bill really meets the needs that I saw as a school psychologist,” Young said.
Young said the youth mental and behavioral health issues she encountered while in college pushed her to become a lawmaker. Young and Sonnenberg also drew attention to the bill’s support for rural communities.
“When it comes to mental health in rural Colorado, per capita, we have more issues in rural areas of the state than along the I-25 corridor,” Sonnenberg said. “I’m thrilled to have this and the number of mental health bills we’ve passed this year to help us advance mental health across the state, especially in rural Colorado.”
The program created by the bill helps primary care providers identify and treat mild to moderate behavioral health problems in children, whether in primary care centers or school health centers. The bill also earmarks $5 million for the Colorado Department of Education’s Behavioral Health Professional Matching Grant Program, providing funding to educators who augment health professionals in schools, provide resources behavioral health services to staff, connect students to community services, and provide behavioral health services. in schools.
The bill provides an additional $1.5 million to the School Health Centers Program of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, supporting the establishment, expansion and operation of health centers in school.
The bill uses funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, following a statewide listening tour on what to do with the funds, according to Polis. Improving the state’s behavioral health response and housing affordability were the top two responses heard across the state, he said. The bill follows recommendations from a January report by the state’s Behavioral Health Transformation Task Force.
“Mental and behavioral health is such an important issue for Colorado, and it has become even more urgent during the pandemic,” Primavera said.
Another bill signed Tuesday will waive state fees for those who become behavioral health professionals, saving them an average of $162 a year, Polis said. Since many professionals earn two or three credentials, the new law could save professionals $80 to $270.
“It’s important…because costs are rising and we want to save everyone money, including our mental health professionals,” Polis said. “It’s also important because it can make a real difference for people, especially part-time behavioral health specialists, who can significantly reduce their income and their decision to continue or work part-time.”
Sponsored by Young, along with Kolker and Senator Rhonda Fields, the bill directs nearly $3.7 million from the general fund to the Professions and Professions Division Treasury Fund. Young said she not only hopes the law will continue to replenish the workforce, but that it will also be seen as a recognition of the hard work of behavioral care professionals during the pandemic and before it.
“I want to express to all of you a deep sense of gratitude for all the work you have done and continue to do,” Young said.