Dec 14, 2021 - News

Gov. Jared Polis responds to Colorado's mental health crisis

Gov. Jared Polis pictured at a news briefing in November 2020. Photo: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Gov. Jared Polis is responding to increasing scrutiny of the state's troubled mental health system, agreeing that "the current system has failed far too many people and we are committed to reforms."

Driving the news: Polis was reacting to a recent investigation that found significant cracks in the system that hampered its response during the pandemic.

  • Back in 2019, he supported the creation of a task force to "examine the root causes of the dysfunction" in the mental health system, and he suggested that its findings mirror what was revealed in the recent investigative report by the Colorado News Collaborative.
  • The governor has committed to spending more than $500 million of federal stimulus dollars to overhaul the state's mental health system.
  • "The state of Colorado spends nearly $2 billion ... on behavioral and mental health each year with less than stellar outcomes," Polis spokesman Conor Cahill said on behalf of the governor.

Between the lines: The state's behavioral health leader, Robert Werthwein, publicly announced his resignation last week.

  • A veteran of two administrations, Werthwein was promoted multiple times in his nine years with the state's human services agency, but it's unclear what led to his departure.
  • The agency's spokesperson, Madlynn Ruble, canceled an interview between Axios and Werthwein last week.

The intrigue: Werthwein informed Colorado Department of Human Services leadership on Oct. 26 of his resignation, writing in an email obtained by Axios that, "I think it is in everyone's best interest."

  • He informed agency staff of his departure the Friday before the public announcement.

What they're saying: The governor called Werthwein "a valued member of the administration" in a statement to Axios.

  • Michelle Barnes, the state's human services director, said in a statement last week that "no one asked" for Robert's resignation and she accepted his departure "with great sorrow."
  • "Robert has been a driving force in improving access to care in Colorado. He has championed youth and family support, and the need for holistic services that are people-focused," she wrote.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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