Colorado losing facilities to treat mental illness

DENVER -- School shootings are something most say they hope to never see again. However, it's a nightmare that seems to be stuck on repeat.

Columbine, Sandy Hook and now Florida are just a few of the school shootings perpetrated by gunmen with histories of mental illness.

Heidi Baskfield is among the many health professionals in Colorado raising an alarm over the way the state treats and approaches mental illness.

"I think what we have a crisis with is a complete lack of a mental health system," Baskfield said.

Baskfield said 75 facilities that provide mental health services in the state have closed in the past year. Four of those facilities are dedicated solely to kids.

Sheryl Zielger, a psychologist with The Child and Family Therapy Center in Denver, said she often struggles to get children admitted to hospitals, even when she believes there's a good chance they will attempt suicide.

"That's really common. 'There's no beds' is a really common phrase we hear," she said.

Children's Hospital Colorado saw visits from kids with complicated mental health needs double in the past year.

The hospital has just four beds dedicated solely to kids and another 35 for kids with psychiatric needs.

However, that's better than most hospitals.

Children's Hospital Colorado is one of three facilities in the metro area with any beds dedicated to pediatric patients with mental health needs.

Colorado hospitals have fewer psychiatric beds per capita than most states.

Psychiatric units are expensive to operate, requiring lots of staff with extensive training.

Insurance companies also often reimburse hospitals at a much lower rate for mental health services than other medical services.

"There's no incentive to provide mental health services. We do it because it's the right thing to do," Baskfield said.

However, the problem is more complex than just a lack of beds. Insurance companies also often won't cover the length of stay that a child needs. That forces parents to make tough decisions.

"They might get authorization for 72 hours so that means every 72 hours they have to get reauthorization, and it can be a Catch-22 because if the child is showing stabilization or improvement the insurance company might not approve it. It might say, OK, we're done," Ziegler said.

Both women say it's a problem without a simple fix, but it's one that needs to be addressed to protect the lives of kids.

"You're seeing a system in crisis and a state as a whole trying to scramble," Baskfield said.

Anyone who needs crisis services can go Colorado Crisis Services for resources to help you get help and navigate the process. 

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