By CBS4 Political Specialist Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4)– Help is on the way for Coloradans in need of mental health care. State lawmakers set aside $450 million of COVID-19 stimulus money for “transformational” changes in the state’s behavioral health care system.

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They include everything from increasing the number of providers to improving mental health coverage by insurers.

A task force has been meeting for months to come up with recommendations, especially when it comes to treatment for kids who are being sent out of state because there aren’t enough treatment beds here.

Colorado’s county human services directors sent a letter to state officials last month saying the shortage is so great that caseworkers are having to spend the night with kids in county offices.

Task Force Chair Brittany Pettersen says by January 2022, 62 additional beds will be available using money already set aside by the state Legislature and governor. And there will be more beds to follow.

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Mental Health Colorado says we need 2,850 beds to meet demand. The state is also developing a system that shows in real time where beds are open.

Task Force Chair Senator Brittany Pettersen says the task force plans to invest in recruiting and retaining more providers and offering insurers incentives to improve reimbursement so more providers will take insurance.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We have leaders and coalitions that we built for the last decade who advocated for these dollars being set aside for behavioral health. This is not something that it is part of what it could be used for, but many states are overlooking those needs and Colorado is not one of them,” said Pettersen.

The state’s ten largest residential treatment facilities say they’re turning away 240 kids on average any given day. Right now, at least 70 Colorado kids have been sent out-of-state for care.

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The task force meets this next week. It plans to have recommendations by December and will introduce legislation in January 2022.

Shaun Boyd