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Children’s Hospital Colorado declares mental health state of emergency as suicide attempts rise

Jennifer Brown
Colorado Sun
Tamara Pogue, formerly the CEO of Peak Health Alliance, speaks during a Colorado health care forum Feb. 21, 2020, at the Summit County Community and Senior Center in Frisco. In her new role as a Summit County commissioner, Pogue is advocating for better funding for mental health care.
Photo by Liz Copan / Summit Daily archives

DENVER — Colorado children are attempting suicide and arriving in emergency rooms in psychiatric crisis at levels never seen in this state, while abuse of alcohol and drugs to cope with mental health struggles is also on the rise.

The youth mental health crisis has escalated to the point this spring that hospital beds are full and more parents are sending kids out of state for treatment, according to a Children’s Hospital Colorado panel of experts who sent up a flare for help Tuesday. The hospital system, with a main campus in Aurora as well as branches in Colorado Springs, Highlands Ranch and Broomfield, declared a “pediatric mental health state of emergency.”

In Summit County, where the community is fed up after mourning many youth suicides in recent years, including the death of an 11-year-old in 2017, residents pay into a mental health fund that finances therapy for anyone who needs it but can’t afford it. As of April, the county was paying for therapy for 87 children. That’s more mental health vouchers than were issued for kids in all of 2020, said county Commissioner Tamara Pogue.



The fund generates about $2 million each year, which is not nearly enough to pay for the demand, Pogue said. She called on Gov. Jared Polis’ administration to produce a detailed roadmap for rural communities to build up their own mental health systems — from eating disorder and substance abuse treatment to subsidized mental health therapy.

“Unless we make even deeper and more significant investments, … we will continue to lose more children,” she said. “That is something that I simply cannot tolerate for my community or any community in Colorado.”




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