Grand County, state officials discuss mental health care in rural areas
August 16, 2009
A discussion about how to fund mental health care in rural areas was one topic explored last Tuesday when Grand County commissioners visited with state leaders.
Colorado Senate President Sen. Brandon Shaffer, Senate Majority Leader Sen. John Morse and Sen. Dan Gibbs of Senate District 16 sat at the commissioners’ table and discussed several topics.
Some mental health programs in the state could face budget cuts when legislators return to the Capitol in January as lawmakers are put to the task of cutting another $900 million from the state budget, according to Shaffer.
But Commissioner Nancy Stuart advocated a new funding stream created for behavioral health issues like drug and alcohol dependency.
She suggested a surcharge added to alcohol purchases or an alcohol tax – having “the industry that causes the problem to help pay for the problem.”
“We’ve taken a giant step backwards to help these people,” Stuart said, referring to Colorado West Mental Health cutbacks made in recent years and a shortage of dependency treatment for adults in the county.
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Yet dependency-related cases continue to put a strain on government services as populations grow and individuals’ recession-related economic burdens exacerbate substance abuse.
“It’s a huge impact on counties,” Stuart said. “It impacts health, social services, jails and the courts.”
People who have a problem with dependency are often sentenced from infractions such as DUIs. People lose their driver’s license, oftentimes have limited insurance and could lose their jobs. In rural areas especially, they may find it difficult to find transportation to treatment classes as required by the courts, and may have difficulty paying for such treatment, Stuart said.
Although Shaffer said legislators are “sensitive to raising fees on anything,” a surcharge might serve as a replacement for “what the state is doing right,” when it comes to mental-health programs, he said, at a time when the state faces more cuts.
“It would cut costs to government if they actually did get help,” Stuart said of citizens with dependency issues.
Commissioner Stuart also suggested a legislative change in daycare policy. Stuart advocated allowing rural areas to have shared directors among several service providers to make childcare centers more economically feasible. Sen. Gibbs later said he would like to meet with the county manager and Stuart to further discuss the idea to explore a potential bill.
Commissioner James Newberry brought up water issues due to Grand County being “the most heavily impacted in the state” when it comes to supplying water.
His concerns, he said, lie less with Denver Water – which is firming up its rights and working on ways to ease impacts – but more with growing Front Range counties such as Douglas County that may be in search of storage in the future.
Referring to negotiations taking place between West and East Slope water networks, County Manager Lurline Underbrink Curran told the panel of state senators, “I think you’re at a very critical stage in the state’s water history. You could be at that moment in history where we start to look at how we do water differently in the future and how we deal with water in the state. We’re there,” she said.
Shaffer, a third-generation Coloradan, shared with commissioners an acknowledgment of East and West Slope communications as “a huge accomplishment.” He added that a Western Slope legislator has been designated to serve as a key water expert to lawmakers in upcoming legislative sessions.
– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.