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Hickenlooper To Unveil New Plans For Colorado’s Mental Health Services

Governor Wants $18.5M To Expand Mental Health Care
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Gov. John Hickenlooper (credit: CBS)

Gov. John Hickenlooper (credit: CBS)

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DENVER (CBS4/AP) – Gov. John Hickenlooper and state health officials are announcing changes to Colorado’s mental health services and support system in response to this summer’s mass shooting at an Aurora theater.

State officials planned a press conference Tuesday morning to talk about the details.

The Democratic governor will be joined by state Human Services Executive Director Reggie Bicha and members of Colorado’s mental health and public safety communities.

The name of the initiative is called “Strengthening Colorado’s Mental Health System: A Plan to Safeguard All Coloradans.”

Former neuroscience graduate student James Holmes is charged with killing 12 people and wounding 70 others in the July movie theater shootings. His attorneys have said he suffers from mental illness. Mental health has emerged as a critical issue in all of the recent mass shootings. It’s a topic that many agree needs to be addressed now.

Psychologist Dr. Robert Vitaletti is part of the Denver Medical Society Task Force on Violence and Mental Health.

“We can stop some of the madness by treating mental health with more respect, more funding, more time and more effort,” Vitaletti said.

Hickenlooper is asking Colorado lawmakers for $18.5 million to expand mental health services, including opening five urgent care mental health centers, as a response to this summer’s mass shooting.

The plan from Hickenlooper and state health officials includes opening five 24-hour walk-in centers for mental health care in Colorado and establishing a statewide mental health crisis hotline. Those two initiatives alone are estimated to cost $10.2 million.

On CNN this weekend Hickenlooper explained he’s been working on the issue since spring, but it became more urgent after the Aurora theater shooting.

“We have a whole list of efforts, almost $20 million in new programs around trying to put more support for people with mental Illness; to make sure we have a 24-hour hotline that someone can call in if they think someone appears unstable, a danger to themselves or others,” Hickenlooper said on CNN. “Making sure we expand capacity in neighborhoods and communities across the state. That we have a place to stabilize people if they appear like they’re a threat to themselves or to others.”

Hickenlooper is also proposing building two 15-bed residential facilities for short-term transition from mental health hospitals to the community, and housing vouchers for people with serious mental illness. That portion of the plan would cost nearly $4.8 million, the governor’s office said.

Another part of the plan calls for the state’s Judicial System and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to better coordinate with electronic mental health records during background checks for gun buyers. Lawmakers have to pass a bill to make it happen, and there was no cost estimate for how much it would cost to revamp coordination.

“A series of tests certainly can be given to screen people for gun ownership,” Vitaletti said.

“We have to work long and hard at this,” Jeannie Ritter said.

As Colorado’s first lady for four years, Ritter made mental health her official cause. Now she’s an advocate.

“Untreated mental illness takes out our communities, as we’ve seen,” Ritter said.

Ritter said we need to encourage people to seek help. She says one in five will suffer some form of mental illness and we need to decrease the stigma and increase the support.

(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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