COVID-19 information from the Office of Behavioral Health

The Colorado Department of Human Services, Office of Behavioral Health (OBH) is committed to providing behavioral health providers with additional guidance and resources throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency. This webpage serves as the hub for all COVID-19-related information from OBH. 

OBH remains open for business and continues to serve Coloradans in need as well as to support providers. Please note that Colorado is still under a state of disaster emergency, which means OBH rules allow video technology for behavioral health services that typically need to be face-to-face, including DUI and Children Youth and Mental Health Treatment Act services. Providers should regularly review OBH's expectations on continuing emergency services during this time.

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Behavioral Health COVID-19 Resources

Behavioral health providers

Substance use & mental health support

Children and youth

Guidance from managed service and administrative services organizations

Signal Behavioral Health, a Managed Service Organization (MSO) and Administrative Services Organization, released this guide with additional recommendations for providers. OBH is sharing this guidance, as it’s useful for providers in maintaining service delivery.

Reminder on facility closures: By OBH rule, all licensed and designated facilities must notify OBH of any closures immediately. Please contact your program manager as soon as possible to help us determine service gaps and potential referrals.

Our priority during this time is to continue to serve Coloradans in need. To help providers prioritize services, OBH is sharing the following expectations:

  • OBH considers the following to be critical services that should be continued during this time:
    • Colorado Crisis Services, including the statewide hotline, walk-in centers, CSUs and mobile crisis services
    • Withdrawal management programs
    • Residential programs and services provided in facilities (jails, Youth Services etc.)
    • Opioid Treatment Programs
    • Medication-assisted treatment
    • Outpatient services should be maintained if at all possible including use of telehealth.

  • As Colorado is in a Protect Our Neighbors phase, programs may resume face-to-face services provided they take necessary health and safety precautions, and follow all local, state, and federal guidelines. OBH recommends following this protocol to screen clients for COVID-19 symptoms; disinfecting facilities regularly; and maintaining at least six feet of space between clients and staff per CDC and CDPHE guidelines. Clients and staff should wear masks at all times. If providers cannot make these accommodations, programs should still use telehealth. 

  • People need access to emergency behavioral health services and providers should continue to provide services whenever possible. OBH would like to avoid unnecessary emergency room visits and wants to ensure Coloradans have access to behavioral health treatment.

  • If you are struggling with staffing due to illness or other COVID-19-related issues, please notify your OBH program staff or let us know via this form prior to closure so we can preemptively develop an appropriate solution that enables law enforcement and other community partners to know where to find alternative resources.

  • For programs that serve individuals who are vulnerable or at-risk populations such as Intensive Outpatient Programs and Assertive Community Treatment (ACT), we recommend that providers identify necessary service accommodations to ensure adequate service delivery, including telehealth. OBH encourages providers to review your caseload and identify those folks who may need additional support and proactively reach out to them to develop safety and risk plans. Ensure that they know the crisis number, 844.493.TALK, and walk-in center locations (coloradocrisisservices.org).

Behavioral Health Executive Order: On April 11, 2020, Governor Polis issued an executive order that temporarily suspends two provisions in C.R.S. 27-65 for each person receiving evaluation, care, or treatment for a mental health disorder in a public or private behavioral health facility. The executive order suspends C.R.S. § 27-65-117(1)(e), which gives each person the right to wear his or her own clothes, and C.R.S. § 27-65-117(1)(d), which gives each person the right to have frequent and convenient opportunities to meet with visitors. Per the executive order, individuals should be provided with new or clean clothes during any COVID-19-related period of isolation. The executive order also encourages facilities to provide methods for electronic interaction as facilities limit visitors to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The executive order was extended for an additional 30 days on July 8, 2020.

OBH Letter in Support of Critical Equipment Purchase: We have heard that some suppliers are rejecting protective and other COVID-19-related equipment purchases from behavioral health providers. Under Colorado Public Health Order 20-24 and Executive Order D 2020 017, health care operations and behavioral health providers are considered critical businesses. We have drafted a letter from OBH that providers can use in support of purchasing needed supplies.

OBH has received many questions about contracts. Here is how we are assisting you:  

  • Continue normal service to the extent possible: We understand that safety measures like social distancing may disrupt traditional programming. We encourage you to explore strategies like telehealth to modify services that are core to your contract.  
  • Emergency Funding Flexibility: We understand that to continue to deliver direct services, providers may require supplies and tools that were not anticipated at the time of contract budgeting, such as personal protective equipment, additional cleaning supplies, technology/devices for telehealth, etc. Providers can include these costs within operating supplies and/or clients costs, as appropriate, as funding remains available within the contract. Providers can also take advantage of the flexibility within contracts, as allowed, to reallocate expenses between categories to capture the necessary and reasonable costs incurred to comply with guidelines for care providers from the Centers for Disease Control and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

As we respond to the outbreak, OBH aims to continue vital behavioral health services while minimizing the risk of infection for patients and staff. We want to remind you that OBH does not require face-to-face visits, and we are working with jails to acquire equipment needed for telehealth to conduct services. With appropriate modifications in place, jails can still identify and treat patients with behavioral health treatment needs and ensure individuals with psychiatric conditions are getting medications and necessary treatment services. Read OBH guidance from March 25, 2020

Court-Ordered Competency Evaluations: OBH is stopping face-to-face court-ordered competency evaluations. We are working with jails to acquire equipment needed for tele-evaluation capacities to conduct all competency evaluations. While we finalize the implementation of tele-evaluations, attorneys or jail staff may contact Lori Carter at the Court Services Department at lori.carter@state.co.us to refer pretrial detainees ordered for competency services in immediate need for hospitalization to be evaluated. Read OBH guidance from April 7, 2020.

Update on Purchase Orders for Telehealth Equipment: OBH recently executed purchase orders (PO) to support telehealth equipment purchases. This memorandum provides guidance on how to receive reimbursement from these POs and shares telehealth and equipment options from several telehealth video technology providers.

Additional Resources

Certified Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs) cannot close without approval from OBH, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). If you are considering closing, please contact State Opioid Treatment Authority Amy Cooper at amy.cooper@state.co.us

Rule Update: The State Board of Human Services approved an emergency rule update on April 3, 2020 that immediately allows for verbal consent to treatment and using video technology for behavioral health services among other actions. OTPs may receive patient consent to treatment with a controlled substance and acknowledgements by signature (wet or electronic) or by documented verbal/oral consent. The rule update streamlines OTP rules with guidance provided by SAMHSA.

On June 12, the State Board of Human Services modified and permanently adopted the emergency rules that went into effect on April 3. The rules help providers continue essential behavioral health services safely by allowing for the following actions: Utilization of verbal consent to treatment, Behavioral health services using video technology, Emergency license modification for agencies to continue to provide behavioral health services in the event of a statewide emergency, and Modification of on-site inspection requirements for agency license and designation reviews. View the permanent rules here