A giant check heralded the arrival of more than half a million dollars in federal funding for Douglas County’s efforts to support the public’s mental health.
“It is no surprise to parents that we are in the midst of a mental health crisis for our children. We’re near the bottom of the nation in terms of our rates for youth suicide,” said U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, who secured the funding as part of the federal spending process.
Crow’s comments came during a March 20 news conference with Douglas County’s elected leaders, where officials announced that the funding would flow to several of the county’s efforts to develop a safety net for people experiencing a mental health crisis.
“With this funding, it’s our goal to develop reliable follow-up support to keep individuals and families engaged in treatment following a crisis, while avoiding cycling through the emergency or criminal justice system to address mental health needs,” said Laura Ciancone, Douglas County’s coordinator of mental health programs.
That “is a very costly track and we all pay for it,” Ciancone said. “Stabilizing people during a crisis and connecting them to services (is) key to addressing mental health needs and preventing the revolving door of crisis response.”
Crow, who represents much of the south and east Denver suburbs in Congress, spoke to what he sees as the broader context of mental health support.
“As a society, we will not be judged by the number of lanes on our highways or how tall our buildings are,” Crow said. “As a society, we will ultimately be judged on how we treat each other and how we come to aid and help those who need a hand. Because there’s no person in this room who hasn’t needed help at some point in their life.”
Walk-in crisis center, youth unit planned
The demand for mental and behavioral health services for children and adolescents exceeds the capacity for services around Colorado, including in Douglas County, Ciancone said.
With the new federal funding — and dollars from the federal American Rescue Plan Act — new programs are unfolding in Douglas County, including the following:
• A walk-in crisis center that will serve as an alternative to the emergency room for all ages. The facility will provide 24/7/365 walk-in crisis support, counseling, deescalation, and information and referrals for individuals experiencing a mental health or substance use disorder crisis, according to a county news release.
• A child and adolescent crisis stabilization unit that will offer 16 beds to serve youth ages 8 to 18 experiencing a mental health crisis.
• A veterans mental health clinician that will provide support for veterans who experience financial and geographic barriers to accessing care.
• A suicide prevention grant program that will support “data-driven countywide work” specifically focused on middle-aged men, prenatal and postnatal women and families, older adults, and youth ages 14 to 24.
Each member of the U.S. House of Representatives was able to submit up to 15 community project funding requests to benefit state or local government grantees or eligible nonprofits. The House Appropriations Committee then considered requests when writing the annual federal spending bill.
Douglas County’s check represents one of the buckets of funding Crow requested for his area.
Separately, Douglas County commissioners dedicated $1.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to grants for local organizations’ work on suicide prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery, the county said in a January news release.
(The American Rescue Plan Act is a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill signed into law in March 2021 with a goal to support the economic and public health recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.)
Programs take shape
The county is partnering with its community mental health organization, AllHealth Network, to open the all-ages walk-in center and the child and adolescent crisis stabilization unit, which Ciancone called a “first-of-its-kind facility in Douglas County.”
Douglas County and its partners aim to support people before and after they use the walk-in center, making sure they get the services they need closer to home, Ciancone said.
Ciancone also spoke to the timeline for new resources unfolding, noting AllHealth Network recently finalized plans with a developer for the walk-in center and the crisis stabilization unit. Officials estimate around a year to a year and a half until opening.
Regarding the suicide prevention grant, “we have received applications, there’s a committee reviewing and we should be making awards in April,” Ciancone said.
The county has launched its veterans mental health program with a clinician, she added.
The county’s community response team — a coresponder program that pairs law enforcement officers with mental health professionals to help adults and youth experiencing a mental health crisis avoid the emergency room or jail — is also expanding, Ciancone said. The county has six community response teams, according to a March news release, and it may have nine teams by summer or fall.
County initiative approaches a decade
Crow thanked the county and its partners for their work to bolster mental health in the area.
“I cannot thank you enough for working day in and day out, putting your heart and your soul on the line to frankly help save our kids’ lives,” Crow said.
For nearly a decade, the county has run an effort to help address mental health in the community.
With support from the Douglas County commissioners, and in response to several tragic mental health-related incidents, the Douglas County Mental Health Initiative was established in 2014 to “unite community partners, address unmet mental health needs, connect people to mental health services and prevent those in need from falling through the cracks of the mental health system,” the county’s website says.
Today, the county’s mental health initiative includes more than 40 entities.
Some of its programs include:
• The county’s community response teams of law enforcement officers and mental health professionals who help people find mental health support.
• The Care Compact, a program helping adults with complex mental health needs navigate benefits and overcome barriers to accessing care.
• A peer recovery team that pairs a “case manager” and peer recovery coach to help high-risk and high-need individuals served by the community response teams and Care Compact find care and avoid treatment gaps. (“Case management” is a term that generally refers to helping manage a person’s situation as it relates to finding resources.)
• And an ongoing, multi-year public outreach effort that aims to help “eradicate stigma associated with mental health,” the county said in a news release.
The new funding will allow the expansion of the county’s Care Compact program, evidence-based treatment programs and parent support, stipends for community-based outpatient mental health and substance use treatment and intensive in-home treatment, and “technology integration” of a web-based case management platform and a faith-based community portal to support access to care and connection to resources for basic needs, like food, transportation and housing, Ciancone said.
Due to recent redistricting, the area Crow represents — Colorado’s 6th Congressional District — now only includes a sliver of Douglas County: a small portion of the far south Aurora area. Before, the district also included Highlands Ranch.