Delta County Sheriff Fred McKee understands the frustrations of the Hotchkiss Marshal's Office and the Paonia Police Department in regards to the Center for Mental Health. McKee stresses he respects Marshal Dan Miller and Police Chief Scott Leon and values their friendship.
He does, however, have a different opinion on the job the Center for Mental Health is doing. (See the Oct. 31 DCI issue for concerns from the marshal and police chief and a response from the center's executive director and emergency services director.) McKee, as the county's top law enforcement officer and president of the board for the Center for Mental Health, understands both sides of the issue.
McKee experienced similar concerns and issues several years ago, and brought them to the attention of the center's board. He was invited to serve on the board.
"After sitting on their board for about seven years now, I have a great appreciation for the limitations on the Center for Mental Health," McKee said. "I think sometimes we think that they are a government program; that they are required to do things they maybe aren't required to do, but they do because they want to be involved in our communities."
Regarding the center's emergency services, McKee explained that they are not mandated to serve the local communities. "It's a very expensive program that the Center for Mental Health does with emergency staff required to respond to all the law enforcement agencies in the Seventh Judicial District" McKee said. "Sometimes to make that happen, just like we do in law enforcement, we have to prioritize or we have to get some where as quick as we can, but we have to finish up our job. So it may put us in a position that we have to wait a little longer."
"I know almost all the clinicians and staff that work for Mental Health, and they are a very, very caring group of people who take their business very seriously under very tough circumstances," he continued. "I think we have to work as a team . . . to make sure we are protecting our communities and protecting the individuals.
"The one thing they have to work with just like law enforcement is imminent danger. Circumstances change and they change quickly. If that imminent danger no longer exists, they are not going to take someone's liberty away. Especially if alcohol or drugs are involved and they sober up, that imminent danger is no longer present, they have no authority to lock someone up anymore than law enforcement does."
The center asks the communities they serve in their six-county area for donations to help cover the costs of service. Some communities, like Paonia, are reducing the amount for Mental Health services rather than increasing them. "Unfortunately, it all comes down to dollars and cents," McKee said. "If the communities are feeling strong enough that we need to provide more [Mental Health services], then we need to step up and say we want more Mental Health services and we are willing to pay for them. Unfortunately, most of our communities aren't in a position to do that right now. It's a difficult situation."
McKee stressed that the Sheriff's Office appreciates the emergency services program here. Other law enforcement do not have similar services and have to do a lot more transporting of people to mental hospitals and have to make a lot more decisions that law enforcement personnel don't want to make.
McKee, Mental Health and law enforcement in Hotchkiss and Paonia are scheduled to meet to discuss their concerns and try to resolve their issues.
Colorado is in the bottom percentage of states that provide funding for behavioral and mental health issues across the board. "One of the biggest issues is we have no beds. We have no place to place people. This is one of the biggest hindrances," McKee said. He suggests perhaps frustrations should be directed to the state level and the lack of funding that is provided.
Colorado's 2012-2013 budget did increase funding to the state's Mental Health Institutions for safe and effective patient care.
Gov. Hickenlooper has just submitted his 2013-2014 budget proposal. The budget includes $10.3 million for expansions of the behavioral health crisis response system, $4.8 million for improving behavioral health community capacity, and $2.1 million for increasing access to civil beds for defendants determined incompetent to proceed with their trialsblog comments powered by Disqus