COLORADO SPRINGS — Amid a time when shortages are everywhere, it should come as no surprise that the mental healthcare industry is struggling. But experts say what might seem like someone else’s problem is actually a problem for all of us — even those who do not suffer from a mental health condition.
According to the Colorado Office of Behavioral Health, three in ten Coloradans (1.5 million people) are in need of mental health care. While those 1.5 million people need care, Colorado is not the easiest place to find it.
Colorado is ranked last when it comes to states that have a lower prevalence of mental illness and high rates of access to care, according to Mental Health America. Meaning, not only does Colorado have a high number of mental health illness, it is not easy for those people to access mental health care.
Imagine having a broken arm, but not having access to any medical facility that could help you fix it. That is the reality for thousands of Coloradans dealing with mental health issues.
“They [healthcare facilities] don’t take all kinds of crises and may turn you away based on whatever it is you’re experiencing,” Mental Health Colorado President and CEO Vincent Atchity said. “If you’re having a mental health issue, but also have a broken limb or need stitches, then you won’t be able to get that care.”
Although the issue may seem like a state problem and not so much a local one, the mental healthcare worker shortage is impacting southern Colorado residents. In Pueblo, the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo‘s staff shortage is ongoing with the hospital working to fill 278 direct care staff positions.
The facility is in need of all types of workers including nurses, psychiatrists, and administrative assistants. Indeed shows job openings with post dates ranging from two days ago to over a month ago.
“That’s going to include a series of our client care aides, our mental health clinicians, our healthcare technicians, and our nurses,” Interim Deputy Director of Office of Behavioral Health Michael Tessean told FOX21 News. “We do have a variety of positions. Some requiring licenses like a registered nurse or a social worker, dining services, there’s a lot of opportunity.”
In an attempt to fill those positions, talks have started with Colorado refugee resettlement programs to possibly hire refugees looking to begin their new lives and careers in America.
“We want to be that opportunity for them,” Tessean said. “We want to create a safe environment where they can have a job that’s stable and consistent where they can help us serve the people during the most vulnerable moments at one of our psychiatric hospitals.”
To learn more about what jobs are available at CMHIP, visit its website. There, you will find information for interested registered nurses, client care aids (CNAs), and LPN/LPT healthcare technicians.
Although Tessean says CMHIP is not the only mental healthcare facility facing shortages, southern Coloradan residents could start to see the effects of the statewide mental health issue trickle into the community as local facilities struggle to meet the needs of its patients.
“People experiencing homelessness, we risk seeing more of that as well as more harmful substance use, and more people feeling that desperation that they feel when it’s not easy to find care and support,” Atchity said.
In addition to increased substance abuse and homelessness, local law enforcement agencies could see jail capacity increase as mental health patients struggle to cope with their condition.
“What we’ll seem more of is low level charges and it’s people whose behaviors are being driven by their unmet health needs, they’re not necessarily threats to public safety,” Atchity said.
Although there is no one solution to fix the problem, experts say there are several things that can help improve Colorado’s mental health situation. Helpful legislation, increased support for mental healthcare workers, and communities working in unity are all ways to make sure Coloradans have access to critical care.
Currently, Mental Health Colorado is promoting its “What’s Your Peace” campaign, which encourages people to share how they make their mental health a top priority. You can learn more about that campaign by visiting their website.