Politicos tuned in: ‘Immediate jeopardy’ to patients threatens Colorado drug program

Author: Joey Bunch - June 12, 2017 - Updated: June 13, 2017

drug addiction Colorado Mental Health Institute(Via Google Maps)

Colorado Politics has been telling you for some time about the good things the state has been doing to curb its soaring opioid drug abuse problem, but news out of Pueblo sounds like a setback. The Pueblo Chieftain has been all over the story about the closing, “at least temporarily,” of a state program that treats people with mental illness and drug addiction.

The Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo must shutter its Circle Program after a dire warning of “immediate jeopardy” from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, brought on by staffing shortages. Ten patients now in the 90-day residential program are being transferred to other sources for the help they need.

The Chieftain reports that Rep. Daneya Esgar and Sens. Larry Crowder and Leroy Garcia are out to get to the bottom of the problems. The state psychiatric hospital is an important part of Pueblo since 1879, employing more than 1,200 people for the 449-bed hospital on a 300-acre campus.

The Colorado Department of Human Services told reporters Friday it has a plan centered on patient care that will raise staffing levels, but if it doesn’t get those steps in place by June 28, the federal agency will terminate the program’s Medicare agreement.

DHS conceded that the state mental hospital has been struggling with a serious staffing shortage for some time. The efforts to address that quickly include mandatory overtime, changes to work schedules, speeding up hiring and freezing new annual leave requests, according to the agency.

The hospital has fallen short on providing require one-on-one time with patients and sometimes didn’t have enough staff to run all their group sessions, either, DHS said.

“High quality patient care is our top priority. We take staffing levels at our mental health institutes very, very seriously,” Dr. Kim Nordstrom, medical director of DHS’s Office of Behavioral Health, which oversees the hospital, said in a statement. “There are many variables at work in the staffing shortage. The plan we have put in place will address the challenges identified by CMS. We are very grateful to our dedicated staff and we have all hands on deck.”

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.