State Stumbles Out of Gate with Mental Health Crisis Centers

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper announces new funding and programs to address mental health treatment issues in Colorado on Dec. 18, 2012.

Joe Mahoney / I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper announces new funding and programs to address mental health treatment issues in Colorado on Dec. 18, 2012.

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 roll out 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 Department of Human Services 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 private Georgia-based  crisis intervention company, 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.

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process, denied that there was any collusion between the department and local mental health providers in the rescinded bid.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.

If there’s any consensus, it’s that the state’s mistakes will be expensive to fix. 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.

Beckman said the disruption is worth it in order to re-do the bid process with a fresh crew and a clean slate.

“When we’re done, everyone’s going to say, this is a really good process,” she said

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