Laws, funding a step forward in mental health fight


Amid calls for more funding and services to help address the growing mental heath crisis in America’s youth and teenagers, officials at Children’s Hospital Colorado say progress was made in 2022.

While dealing with the crisis is going to be a marathon to develop effective change to an outdated system, Zach Zaslow, director of government relations at Children’s Hospital Colorado, said the Colorado General Assembly and lawmakers in Washington are starting to listen.

At the state level, Zaslow said, Colorado earmarked $450 million of American Rescue Plan Act funding.

“This is a big step because we have to make sure children and youth are getting their fair share,” he said. “Some of these funds will go to schools, improving the workforce, therapy and foster care.”

At the national level, Zaslow said, some laws being introduced can make a big impact on helping an overwhelmed system that only got worse after the COVID pandemic started in 2020.

A bill Zaslow said shows promise is Senate Bill 4472, the Health Care Capacity for Pediatric Mental Health Act, introduced by Sens. Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, and Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, 1 in 5 children and adolescents experience mental health issues each year. Between the years 2016 and 2020, emergency room visits for children’s mental health more than doubled in the U.S.

Senate Bill 4472 looks to address the struggling system by including critical investments that will bolster the pediatric mental health workforce and improve the availability of a full continuum care for kids.

Zaslow said the bill will go a long way in helping improve capacity issues and mental health facilities.

In Colorado, Zaslow described a system that is at capacity in its ability to treat youth and teenagers dealing with mental illness.

For example, 17-year-old Emma Warford was diagnosed with an eating disorder in 2021. With her condition at critical levels, doctors recommended she be admitted to a clinic that specializes in treating eating disorders.

Colorado’s centers were full. Warford was sent to Washington state to get critical treatment.

Zaslow said with the health care system lagging in properly recognizing and treating mental health, youth like Warford either have to be sent out of state or never get treatment at all.

The House, HR 7236 aims to expand availability of mental, emotional and behavioral health services under the Medicaid program.

While in its early stages, Zaslow said, this bill also shows promise.


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