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CDHS staff update legislators on efforts to reform the state’s behavioral health system

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DENVER (Dec. 17, 2021) — Staff from the Colorado Department of Human Services, Office of Behavioral Health (OBH) discussed dozens of strategies to reform the state’s behavioral health system at a Joint Budget Committee hearing today as the state gears up to launch a new Behavioral Health Administration (BHA) by July 2022. 

OBH staff presented on several priorities, including shoring up resources for competency restoration services to meet record demand; building a more effective safety net system for people with complex behavioral health disorders; and addressing workforce shortages among licensed and peer professionals. 

“An estimated 1 million Coloradans live with a behavioral health condition, but far too many forgo care or fall through the cracks because our current system isn't working for them,” said Michelle Barnes, executive director of CDHS. “We are grateful to Governor Polis and the General Assembly for setting aside $550 million in stimulus funding to address immediate needs and strengthen our system for years to come. Working with our partners across the state, we will transform the system so all Coloradans can access the right care at the right time.” 

Legislators also heard about progress to establish the new BHA, which will launch in the summer of 2022. As the state’s lead entity for behavioral health, the BHA will make the system more affordable and accountable across all payers through the following responsibilities, among many others: 

  • Defining safety net services and ensuring there are enough safety net providers in all regions of the state 
  • Setting common clinical, safety net and payment and reimbursement standards for providers
  • Managing a master state contract among agencies and mental health and/or substance use providers to them accountable for meeting state safety net standards  
  • Overseeing a complaint and appeals process for all Coloradans, regardless of insurance status 
  • Seeking regular input from an advisory council of providers, people with lived experience, county and Tribal representatives and local leaders to ground the behavioral health system in the needs of the people

To get the BHA up and running, CDHS is working with members of the General Assembly to put forward legislation that authorizes these key functions and roles, among others. CDHS will hold public hearings on a proposed bill in January 2022; visit the CDHS website for registration details. 

To make care more accessible, the BHA will build on existing, successful models of care coordination services to create a central access point that will help consumers enroll in behavioral health care and link them to programs that support treatment, such as housing, transportation and food assistance. The BHA will explore organizing care coordination in regional networks of safety net providers that integrate mental health and substance use care. CDHS has convened a care coordination workgroup to advise on the specific structure and programming over the next several months. 

In November CDHS submitted a plan to implement the BHA to the legislature and released an executive summary in December. For more information on Colorado’s behavioral health reform efforts, visit the CDHS website

If you or someone you know is in crisis or needs help dealing with one, call 1-844-493-TALK (8255) or text TALK to 38255 to speak to a trained professional. Learn more at


Media contact:
Madlynn Ruble, Deputy Director of Communications