Botched Roll-Out Halves First Budget for Crisis Centers

Emergency psychiatric services ward at Denver Health

Emergency psychiatric services ward at Denver Health

It wasn’t in the league of the disastrous unveiling of the federal Affordable Care Act, but Colorado recently got a taste of similarly bitter medicine when it tried to get started on one of its own important health care initiatives.

And that was in the botched awarding of contracts to run a network of walk-in mental health crisis centers, a key initiative from Gov. John Hickenlooper. The centers are designed to to take pressure off of hospital emergency rooms, jails and prisons – which have become the main providers of services for people with mental illness – after decades of funding shortfalls, as reported by I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS.

The state’s first effort at doling out contracts for the centers ended in recrimination and lost time. As a result, Colorado will now spend less than half of what it budgeted for the crisis services in the current fiscal year. Instead of the $19.8 million allocated, the state Department of Human Services expects to spend only $9.7 million, due to delays in the process.

The department issued a new request for proposals to run the crisis centers two weeks ago,  after deciding to rescind an award it had made on Oct. 16 to Crisis Access of Colorado, which set up shop in the state for the purpose of applying for the contract.

Crisis Access, affiliated with a Georgia-based  crisis intervention company and a mental health treatment organization with operations in Arizona and California, accused the state of making an unlawful political decision when it scrapped the contract. In a protest letter filed on Nov. 11, the company alleged that the state skirted proper procedures and bowed to pressure from a consortium of local community mental health facilities that had lost out on the bid. The state has since rejected the company’s appeal, and Crisis Access said it is considering its next move.

Susan Beckman, who heads the administrative branch of the Department of Human Services, the office responsible for the flawed solicitation process, denied that there was any collusion between the department and local mental health providers in the rescinded bid. She said the original process had been deeply flawed, “an embarrassment to the department.” Before the bid was even awarded, she said she became aware of “blatant” errors including missing scores, incorrect calculations and improper weighting.

A new bidding process means another costly effort by the mental health service providers applying for the job – not to mention those reviewing the proposals. Costs will also be borne by Colorado residents in need of mental health services, as the roll-out for the new crisis centers is postponed.

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