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Colorado Needs To Invest In Behavioral Healthcare

With the lowest number of psychiatric beds on a per capita basis in the country, behavioral healthcare is the biggest unmet need in Colorado today.

Swisslog Healthcare Solutions Senior Vice President Cory Kwarta, Hord Coplan Macht architect Mary Morissette, Kaiser Permanente Executive Director Clayton Mitchell, University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus Chancellor Donald Elliman Jr., Centura Health Senior Vice President James Corbett and Turner Construction Manager of Business Development and Executive of Healthcare Scott Bustos

The state has just seven psychiatric beds per 100,000 people, compared with an average of more than 25 per 100,000 nationwide, Centura Health Senior Vice President James Corbett said at Bisnow’s The State of Denver Healthcare event last week.

“We are the Mississippi of behavioral health,” Corbett said.

It is a problem that is becoming increasingly evident. In Durango, where Centura has a hospital to serve the town with a population of 18,503, there were 17 suicides during this calendar year, Corbett said.

“Unmet behavioral health conditions, be it depression or other issues, phobias, those things have consequences that increase the total cost,” Corbett said. “There’s a great need for behavioral health construction in the state.”

University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus Chancellor Donald Elliman Jr. said the university has been underinvested in mental health but has been working harder on providing more services in its shift from acute care to wellness. 

“Mental health is the single biggest undermet need in the country today,” Elliman said. “It’s a noble mission but a lousy business. Reimbursements aren’t very good.”


TreanorHL Health Studio Lead/principal Steve Carr, Ventas Inc. Senior Investment Officer Shane Seitz, Development Solutions Group Managing Director of Real Estate Development and Chief Operating Officer Andrew Shearer, VMG Health Director of Real Estate Valuation Services Victor McConnell and Partner Engineering and Science National Client Manager AJ Nosek

Though it does not always fall under the behavioral health umbrella, homelessness is another factor impacting healthcare delivery. If a hospital discharges a patient to a homeless shelter, the likelihood of that patient contracting an infection and ending up back in the hospital increases. It is a problem that has resulted in hospitals partnering with housing organizations to provide transitional housing, Corbett said, noting that Centura has done a few of them.

Though Colorado’s healthcare industry is healthy overall, it faces significant challenges in funding capital projects, Elliman said. First, there is Washington, D.C. If the federal government reduces healthcare spending by hundreds of billions of dollars, it will affect everyone's capital plans, he said. Also impacting healthcare spending are TABOR (Taxpayers Bill of Rights) and the Gallagher Amendment, which drastically reduces funding to meet the needs of developmentally disabled people. 

“Healthcare delivery in the State of Colorado is healthy, and the margins of most hospitals is strong,” Elliman said. “But that train is probably headed for a slowdown.”