Colorado Human Services Department seeks help from counties during town hall meeting | CraigDailyPress.com

Colorado Human Services Department seeks help from counties during town hall meeting

A representative from the Colorado Department of Human Services listens as Moffat County residents talk about issues the county is facing.

CRAIG – The Colorado Department of Human Services town hall meeting, held Friday, July 27, at Colorado Northwestern Community College, focused on issues Moffat County is facing and how the department can improve and help.

The Colorado DHS is readying for the transition to a new administration ahead of the gubernatorial race and wants to ensure everything is ready, Colorado DHS executive director Reggie Bicha said.

Bicha likened the coming transition to a relay race, saying the department is in the final stretch in the race and doesn’t want to drop the baton — meaning the department wants to clear any unfinished business before passing “the baton.” Two pieces of this “unfinished business,” he said, are the development of a strategic plan and completion of a budget proposal, due Nov. 1.

“The conversations we are having across the state are really important to achieve these two items,” Bicha said. “We need to hear from you on what is working and what is not, so we can come up with the right plan for the state.”

The department wants the advise of Colorado counties in development of the budget proposal, he added.

When Hickenlooper took office in 2011, he directed all state agencies to look at rules and eliminate unnecessary rules and regulations and streamline programs and protocols where possible. In response, the state DHS eliminated about 20 percent of its rules and rewrote another 60 percent. A second review found 23 additional rules in need of revision, and the department is working with the state Board of Human Services make these revisions before the end of the year.

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Bicha added there are also 67 boards in his department, acknowledging there has never been a review to establish their necessity and relevance. Accordingly, he said, the department is evaluating all its boards to determine which might be eliminated and to develop recommendations for the next administration.

Competency restoration

One important issue the department is focused on is competency restoration services, Bicha said. When someone is arrested for a crime, that person may go to jail, and sometimes, the court wants to know if the person is competent to aid in their defense or to stand trial. The department is directed to handle such evaluations, and, if a particular suspect is found not to be competent, the court will order the department to restore him or her to competency.

“Restoration is a fancy term to say two things,” Bicha said. “It is basically a mental health treatment and education about the judicial process. The goal is to get someone stable enough to aid in their own defense.”

In 2001, about 90 people needed to be restored to competency, according to Bicha. Those people were ordered to the state hospital in Pueblo and remained there for weeks — or sometimes years — depending upon their needs. With the change in practice and criminal justice, there has been a massive increase in the number of people who need to be restored.

As of June, there were more than 1,000 such persons.

The department was sued by an advocacy group, which claimed defendants have a constitutional right to be restored in a timely manner, Bicha said, and now, the department has 28 days from when the judge orders restoration. The challenge the department is now facing is coping with the increased numbers with few patient hospital beds to work.

The problem goes beyond the current administration, Bicha said. The department believes it has a plan to address the issue, but cautioned the solution would be short-term only.

Children, youth, families

The federal government last year evaluated the department’s child protective service system, scoring it above the national average, Bicha said. However, the federal metrics used to evaluate the system require every state submit a plan charting how child protective services can be improved over a two- to five-year period.

During the past seven years, the department has been working to get children from low-income families into high-quality child care, Bicha said, adding his belief that child care helps working parents and that an early childhood learning strategy should be available to all parents in the state.

When the state DHS started its child care assistance program for low-income families, about 20-percent of children in the state were going to a child care center. Now, about 60 percent of those children are in a child care center. The department estimates it will grow to 70 to 80 percent in the next few months.

Bicha acknowledged, however, the every region in the state is struggling to get care for toddlers and the department has been talking to each county about how to correct this issue.

Benefits for needy families

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, a federal program, now has a work requirement, Bicha said. People who participate must try to find work, and the DHS supports that change. So long as people enrolled in the program are trying to get a job, they receive a monthly payment of about $480.

To be eligible for Colorado Works, the state’s version of the program, participants must earn less than $6,000 per year and income level that represents “deep-end” poverty.

The amount needy families receive each month hasn’t been increased in 10 years, Bicha said, and the department worked with the state Board of Human Services to increase that amount by 10 percent. As a result, beginning in September, people who are enrolled will receive about $520 per month.

More work needs to be done to end hunger in the state, Bicha said, adding that Colorado — compared to other states — has performed poorly in addressing the issue; it is ranked 46th in the country on this issue.

Those who are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, are not enrolling, Bicha said, and these are mainly the elderly and low-income families. The department is working to increase awareness of the program and get those eligible enrolled.

Adult Protective Services

Colorado has made tremendous changes in the Adult Protective Services Program. Since the state legislature enacted mandatory reporting a few years ago, Bicha said, professionals who believe an elderly person is being physically abused or financially victimized are required to report the issue to law enforcement and county agencies.

Investments have also been made in resources, and more case workers have been added across the state. Additionally, the department has improved computer resources and rewritten policies and procedures to be efficient and focused on ensuring vulnerable adults are safe.

The next thing the department plans to do is close a due process and background check loophole. Beginning this month, if someone is found to have harmed a vulnerable adult, he or she will be notified and given the opportunity to appeal, Bicha said. He added that , beginning in January, background checks will be performed on everyone working in the Adult Protective Services Program.

Currently, when someone applies for work at a nursing home, a background check is not required.

Issues and solutions

Moffat County residents voiced their concerns on problems they are facing.

One resident said child care is difficult to find in the county, and even when it can be found, there are numerous hoops to be jumped through to secure child care. There needs to be more child care providers and fewer obstacles to accessing that care, the resident said.

Another claimed it is difficult to find providers for substance abuse and mental health issues. The resident said many hospitals don’t accept Medicaid, and that makes it difficult for people to receive care for those issues, adding that a greater number of providers are needed for substance abusers mental health issues.

“Substance abuse is considered taboo in rural Colorado,” a resident said. “We need to encourage people to get the help they need.”

Teenage depression is an issue that isn’t addressed in schools and is often dismissed by adults in the community, other residents said, adding that the stigma associated with mental health issues must be removed.

Contact David Tan at dtan@CraigDailyPress.com or 970-875-1795.