Briefline

Lawsuit alleges inadequate mental health care for Colorado teens

By: - September 8, 2021 4:30 am
Safe2Tell

A person holds a phone with the Colorado Safe2Tell mobile app pulled up on July 16, 2020. Young people can use the app to report mental health or substance use needs, and will be directed to Colorado’s statewide crisis response system. (Moe Clark/Colorado Newsline)

A federal class-action lawsuit filed Friday alleges the state shirked its duty to Medicaid-eligible teenagers unable to obtain care for mental health and substance use disorders in Colorado.

Three anonymous teenage plaintiffs are being supported in the legal action by the state chapter of Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health.

The plaintiffs — whose lawsuit names the state of Colorado and Kim Bimestefer, executive director of the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, as defendants — hope for a judgment that benefits thousands of Medicaid-eligible Coloradans under 21 who need intensive behavioral health services at home or in their communities.

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“We must do better for our kids and our families,” Libby Stoddard, a board member for Federation of Families’ Colorado chapter, said in a written statement Friday from the organization. “Currently, the families we work with cannot find access to the services they need when they need them.”

The three teenagers “experienced unnecessary institutionalization and other serious harms” as a result of what they claim is Colorado’s failure “to provide or arrange for medically necessary mental health and behavioral services” required under federal law, according to the organization’s statement.

Colorado’s Mental Health America ranking:

  • 42nd for youth mental health
  • 48th for the rate of substance use disorder among young people
  • 46th for the percentage of youths with major depression who received some consistent treatment in 2020

In 2020, Mental Health America ranked Colorado 42nd in the nation for youth mental health. The national nonprofit ranked the 50 states and the District of Columbia based on seven measures, such as the percentage of young people who had experienced at least one major depressive episode in the last year, and the percentage of young people with substance use disorder.

Colorado ranked 48th for the rate of substance use disorder among young people. In 2020, about 1 out of 18 Colorado youths had alcohol or drug addiction, according to Mental Health America’s ranking. Only New Mexico, Montana and Alaska reported higher rates of substance use disorder among youth.

Colorado also ranked 46th for the percentage of youths with major depression who received some consistent treatment in 2020. Just 21.5% of young Coloradans with major depression received some consistent treatment.

“Colorado has been ignoring their duty to provide mental health services to the children of Colorado for too long,” Robert Farley Jr., the attorney for the plaintiffs, was quoted as saying in Federation of Families’ statement. “We hope this lawsuit will force the State to find a solution for providing care to all of Colorado’s children and youth who need it.”

Colorado has been ignoring their duty to provide mental health services to the children of Colorado for too long.

– Robert Farley Jr., attorney for the plaintiffs

In other states, the statement notes, class-action lawsuits on behalf of young people seeking Medicaid behavioral health care have led to improvements.

The Colorado lawsuit pertains to the availability of intensive home- and community-based services for young people. These services are supposed to be available to certain children and young adults enrolled in Health First Colorado, the state’s Medicaid program managed by the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing. To qualify for a waiver — which supplements the basic health care services covered by Medicaid — the person must have significant mental or behavioral needs and be at risk of being placed in a hospital, skilled-nursing facility or other institution.

In their complaint, the plaintiffs ask the court to order the state of Colorado and Bimestefer to provide Medicaid-eligible teenagers with the home- and community-based services they need to address significant behavioral health issues.

They allege the state’s efforts to keep young people with mental health or substance use disorders out of emergency rooms and psychiatric institutions fall woefully short.

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Faith Miller
Faith Miller

Reporter Faith Miller covers the Colorado Legislature, immigration and other stories for Colorado Newsline.

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