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Lawmakers honored for work on mental-health bill

Local legislators among four who helped pass measure against jailing

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Four Colorado lawmakers were honored by Healthier Colorado for their work in strengthening access to mental health services.

Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, Sen. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village, Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, and Rep. Lang Sias, R-Arvada, were presented with Legislator of the Year awards for their work in helping pass a bipartisan bill that ended the practice of jailing people during a mental health crisis.

Senate Bill 207, which took aim at a practice used by just six states nationwide, was one of the most significant pieces health care legislation during the 2017 session. The law also adds $7 million for crisis service facilities — including walk-in centers, acute treatment units and crisis stabilization units — to care for individuals in need.

"It would be illegal to jail an innocent person because they have a concussion or broken leg. Our public policy must be made to reflect the reality that mental and physical health is co-equal,” said Jake Williams, executive director of Healthier Colorado. “We are thankful for Rep. Sias and the other lawmakers who helped end this unjust practice and improve access to mental-health services.”

Nonprofit Healthier Colorado is drawing attention to the mental and behavioral health needs of the state. Colorado is behind many other states in the nation when it comes to key mental and behavioral health care indicators, consistently ranking in the top 10 states for suicide, opioid addiction and alcoholism.

This crisis is further exacerbated by the fact that many of the state's rural communities do not have adequate access to mental and behavioral health treatment. More than 80 percent of Colorado's psychologists are in the Denver metro and Colorado Springs areas, and 12 counties don't have a single licensed psychologist. For more information, go to healthiercolorado.org.

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