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Tony Hass, farmer, rancher and county commissioner, stands beneath the sign with the name of his ranch in front of his home a few miles east of Trinidad. Hass has been speaking out and taking action to make mental health a priority in his rural community where often pride gets in the way of talking about mental health issues. “The old cowboy way is you suck it up and deal with it,” Hass said. A four-year grant from the Denver Foundation through the state’s Primary Care Office at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is aimed at addressing workforce shortages in behavioral health by helping providers who agree to work in underserved areas pay back part of their student loan debts.

Two weeks after Aurora-based UCHealth system launched a $100 million initiative to expand mental health services and telepsychiatry at its emergency rooms and primary care locations, the Denver Foundation has announced more than $8.4 million in grants to agencies that support increased access to behavioral health care statewide.

The announcements come amid a yearlong project by The Gazette highlighting the state’s mental health crisis. The newspaper’s investigation showed that as many as 382,000 Colorado residents can’t get or afford the help they need, that jails and prisons have become de facto treatment centers for the state’s mentally ill, and that rural residents face the toughest barriers to care due to a desperate shortage of providers.

The 16 grants, distributed in September through the Denver Foundation’s Colorado Health Access Fund, include a three-year grant supporting Medication Assisted Treatment providers at Health Solutions, a wellness center that serves residents in the southern part of the state, including Pueblo, Walsenburg and Trinidad, as well as two grants to expand MAT programs at Denver and Larimer county jails.

A four-year grant through the state’s Primary Care Office at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is aimed at addressing workforce shortages by helping providers who agree to work in underserved areas pay back part of their student loan debts.

“The CHA Fund is supporting important work at a time of major developments in the field of behavioral health in Colorado,” said Dace West, vice president of community impact at The Denver Foundation.

“We are grateful for the many partners and organizations that share our commitment to broadening access to behavioral health care across the state.”

Other grants will help expand behavioral health capacity at Denver Children’s Advocacy Center and at Olathe Community Clinic/River Valley Family Health Center, a federally qualified health center in rural Colorado.

The Colorado Health Access Fund, created in 2015 with an anonymous $40 million gift to the foundation, supports programs and activities meant to increase health care access and improve outcomes in Colorado populations with “high health care needs.”

The fund will distribute about $5 million a year through 2022.

Reporter

Stephanie Earls is a news reporter and columnist at The Gazette. Before moving to Colorado Springs in 2012, she worked for newspapers in upstate NY, WA, OR and at her hometown weekly in Berkeley Springs, WV, where she got her start in journalism.

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