Dec 6, 2021 - News

Cracks emerge in Colorado's mental health system

Illustration of a person sitting on the ground surrounded by radiating lines. 

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A new investigation has exposed a slew of problems plaguing Colorado's behavioral health system.

Why it matters: Colorado leads the U.S. with the highest rate of adult mental illness and least access to care, according to Mental Health America.

  • Health officials for months have predicted the next looming crisis could be a mental health pandemic, resulting from a culmination of COVID-induced factors including social isolation, high stress and devastating loss.

The findings: The Colorado News Collaborative, a nonprofit journalism coalition, found the state's system lacks oversight and transparency. Colorado's top mental health centers regularly deny care to some of the most vulnerable residents — and state officials have failed to step in.

  • Mental health facilities in the state have been charging taxpayers nearly 20 times more than independent Medicaid providers for the same services, with little explanation for the discrepancies. They also received non-compete contracts.

Zoom in: The Mental Health Center of Denver has emerged as a particularly egregious example.

  • It is sitting on more than $41 million in cash reserves while patients face record-long wait times for treatment.
  • The CEO Carl Clark took a $819,340 salary in 2019, more than 10 times what the average clinician earns.

Go deeper with COLab


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Denver.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Denver stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Denver.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more