Joey BunchJoey BunchOctober 20, 20173min114
Reggie Bicha has been talking to tribal leaders about how the state of Colorado can be an ally to the Ute nation to provide needed social services to tribal members in the state. Bicha, executive director of the Colorado Department of Human Services, and other state agency leaders met with representatives from the Ute Mountain […]

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Joey BunchJoey BunchOctober 5, 20173min1480

Forty-five organizations that serve 23,000 Coloradans has $3 million more to fight domestic violence, the Colorado Department of Human Services said.

DHS’s Domestic Violence Program announced the contract awards Thursday morning

“Domestic violence is a tragedy that touches far too many Coloradans,” the program’s director, Brooke Ely-Milen, said in a statement. “DVP funding helps support a network of essential domestic violence services throughout Colorado’s diverse communities. This will give adults and children in Colorado who are affected by domestic violence the opportunity to seek help and explore options that will increase their safety and well-being.”

The contracts include federal and state money.

About $1.7 million is awarded to the state by the Family and Youth Services Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and another $630,000 from a Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant. The state provides another $697,000 from the Colorado Domestic Abuse Fund income tax check-off program, which allows taxpayers to donate part of their return each year, as well as money from marriage licenses and divorce filing fees.

Last year, Colorado taxpayers used the check-off to contribute $175,000 to the fund.

DVP supports community-based programs that provide free, confidential support, including crisis intervention, safety planning, case management, advocacy, counseling and emergency shelter for adults and children affected by domestic violence, DHS said.

“These services increase awareness of community resources and help more Coloradans prepare a plan for their ongoing personal safety,” according to the department.

A list of those programs is available here.

The contracts are awarded year-to-year for up to four years. Though non-competitive, each program has to reapply annually to ensure contract and program compliance, DHS said.

DHS noted that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“If you or someone you know would like to reach a free and confidential community-based advocate, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, ” DHS said in its statement about the grants


Joey BunchJoey BunchSeptember 12, 20172min194
Circumstances and leadership continue to evolve with the Colorado Department of Human Services behavioral health programs, as Nancy VanDeMark plans to return to a private healthcare consulting at the end of September. DHS is promoting Robert Werthwein to the role. VanDeMark has  led the Office of Behavioral Health since  2015. “Dr. Werthwein is a dedicated […]

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Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 23, 20173min730

Colorado Politics told you in July and now other news sources are taking the word nationwide: C-Stat program is a model that government could learn from.

Reggie Bicha pragmatic’s way of taking on problems at the Department of Human Services is more like a brain bowl for bureaucrats than a bureaucracy. His senior staff and others meet once a week for a lightning round of updates on pending solutions and group-sourcing over new problems for ideas across several departments. Everything is measured against data, not egos.

Last week Government Technology magazine republished a Governing magazine piece titled about Bicha and C-Stat titled, “Colorado’s Data-Driven Approach in Human Services is Helping It Tackle Major Problems; C-Stat has helped Colorado become one of the best states at getting benefits to unemployed and low-income people.”

You can read all about it here.

Writer J.B. Wogan notes:

More than 20 large cities and a handful of counties now have Stat programs. Only a few of them apply the data-driven approach to human services.

One of the pioneers of Stat programs for human services is Reggie Bicha.

The positive attention now is a long way from the situation Bicha inherited when Gov. John Hickenlooper brought him in to fix one of the most broken systems in state government in 2011.

Bicha told Wogan:

“If you go back six to 10 years ago, Colorado was one of the worst performing states in the country when it related to making timely eligibility determinations for food assistance, family cash assistance and Medicaid. It was so bad that when the governor and I came into the office in 2011, we inherited a federal court order directing us to improve the timeliness of these eligibility determinations. When you came in for benefits, you had a 50/50 shot of getting eligibility determined in a timely way. And then if you looked at accuracy, you had worse than a 50/50 shot that you were actually going to get the right benefit that you should have been receiving.

C-Stat itself didn’t fix the problem. What C-Stat did was give us a framework and set a clear goal for helping us dig into what was contributing to our lousy performance for Coloradans in need.”

Bicha told Colorado Politics in July that he has no expectations that he’ll be asked to stay on when Hickenlooper’s last term ends next year. Most new governors bring in their department heads, but he’s hopeful C-Stat will continue.

The KidStat program he started in Wisconsin under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle continued on under Republican Gov. Scott Walker.


Joey BunchJoey BunchJuly 20, 20176min620

Here’s a taste of good government that could make your mouth water and put a smile on your face, for a change. Cooks from 14 Colorado Department of Human Services facilities squared off  Wednesday in Wheat Ridge to show off dishes they serve to those in their care.

Folks are so eager to badmouth public servants, based on the actions of a few. To do so, however, they must overlook the pride, dedication and caring of so many, like those who make sure the state’s neediest and most neglected are cared for with love, compassion and respect. DHS is trying to shine a light on its staff members who, themselves, are shining lights.

Baklava from Mount View Youth Services Center in Lakewood took home the prize Wednesday at the Wheat Ridge Regional Center. Mount View is a detention facility for youth, many of whom likely haven’t had a lot of award-winning attention in their lives.

“I fix baklava for the kids on special occasions,” said Dina Lampropoulou, who joined with Jim Cronin on the Mount View team. She said she was “very excited” to win.

The dish is close to her soul; she’s originally from Greece. A sign on the Mount View booth at the contest noted “America is the melting pot.”

Mount View shared the award for most spirit, a recognition called Say Yes to the Zest, with the Veterans Community Living Center at Fitzsimons in Aurora, which showed off its patriotic pride in its theme.

“The work our dietician team does is so important,” said Reggie Bicha, DHS’s executive director. “A good and nutritious meal is one of the best ways to make somebody feel nurtured and to give our clients a foundation so that they can benefit from the great work our clinical staff does.”

Adams Youth Services Center came in second with roast pork mole pupusas, a recipe the center got from one of the young people in the facility. There were two honorable mentions: Grand Mesa Youth Services Center for its carne asada tacos and Pueblo Youth Services Center for a red velvet cake.

Bicha judged the contest with Tony Gherardini, DHS’s deputy executive director of operations; Melissa Wavelet, the agency’s director of the Office of Performance and Strategic Outcomes; Denver Post food writer Allyson Reedy and 9News multimedia journalist Noel Brennan.

Among the other dishes they judged were lasagna, smoked meatloaf, cheesecake, taco soup and chicken enchiladas.

. Other competitors were Gilliam Youth Services Center, Marvin W. Foote Youth Services Center, Platte Valley Youth Services Center, Zebulon Pike Youth Services Center, Pueblo Regional Center, Wheat Ridge Regional Center, Colorado Mental Health Institute at Fort Logan and Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo.

Fitzsimons won the contest the first year of the 3-year-old contest , and Spring Creek was the winner last year.

Here’s the recipe (by special request of Colorado Politics, because our readers deserve the best):

Mount View Baklava

1 pound of phyllo pastry, thawed or frozen
1 cup of butter melted at room temperature
3/4 cup of sugar
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
2 cups of chopped walnuts
1/2 cup of water
1/4 cup of lemon juice
1/4 cup of honey

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Layer sheets of phyllo one at a time in a greased 11x7x2-inch baking pan brushing each sheet evenly with butter and folding over the ends, if necessary, to fit in the pan.
2. Keep unused sheets covered with plastic wrap while assembling the baklava to prevent drying.
3. Mix 1/4 cup of the sugar and cinnamon, stir in walnuts.
4. Sprinkle mixture evenly over buttered phyllo in the pan.
5. Layer remaining phyllo, one sheet at a time, over the nut mixture, brushing each sheet evenly with butter.
6. Cut diagonally into squares, completely through all layers.
7. Bake in preheated oven until crisp and golden, about one hour.
8. Combine remaining sugar, the water, lemon juice and honey in a small saucepan; cook and stir over low heat until sugar dissolves.
9. Heat to boiling then pour evenly over the baklava.
10. Let stand loosely covered for 8 hours or overnight.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct that Fitzsimons won the contest the first year.


Joey BunchJoey BunchJuly 11, 201710min1121

The Colorado Department of Human Services has the job of determining how state government can efficiently aid desperate poverty, how mental institutions can provide safety and care without adding harm or trauma, and assuring working parents that their childcare provider has quality.

That’s just three of 100 questions executive director Reggie Bicha and his department heads review each month under the C-Stat performance management meetings and measurements that keep a 5,000-employee bureaucracy, with a nearly $2 billion annual budget, rolling in the right direction.

More war room than red tape, C-Stat is how Colorado solves its most difficult problems for the state’s poorest and neediest residents. DHS services that range from government money and nutrition to youth detention and programs to prevent domestic violence and drug addiction.

“We deal with people often on the worst day of their life,” Bicha told Colorado Politics last week.

Bicha talked about how C-Stat, the engine behind the DHS machine, as Colorado’s performance management measure marks its fifth anniversary.

He and his department heads meet every Wednesday from 3 to 5 p.m. in a conference room the size of a 7-Eleven in DHS’s office tower a block north of the state Capitol. Tables are arranged in a cornered U to focus attention on a podium that stands in front of a projector screen.

Each department leader takes a turn up front and center to field ideas and talk about progress.

As a group, they take stock of every problem, try to break down the silos between departments to find solutions and discuss ways to measure that solution once it’s in progress. If it succeeds, they celebrate. If it fails, they talk about why and find another solution. 

“The office director is responsible for the performance of these measures, so there’s a level of accountability, and their job is to come prepared to tell us where things are going well, why they’re going well and how do we get more of it,” Bicha explained. “And where things aren’t going well, why aren’t they going well and what are we going to do about it.

“And don’t tell me what we’re going to do about it in the next six months. Tell me what we’re going to do about it in the next six weeks.”

It started in Wisconsin

When Bicha came to Colorado in 2011, the state was under a court order to reduce the amount of time it takes to get food and financial assistance to the very poor. The counties administered the complicated, time-consuming enrollment. Less than half the time people couldn’t get their benefits within 30 days, as the law required. The more than half the time, the amount would be either too much or too little, Bicha said.

“C-Stat helped to give us a framework so we could look at why people were getting bad decisions in a bad period of time, what we needed to do about it, hold us accountable for fixing it and seeing if it got better,” Bicha said.

In January, DHS was released from the court order because it had raised its success rate above 98.7 percent.

Before joining DHS, Bicha was the first secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, where he created a program similar to C-Stat called KidStat.

Started under Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, Kidstat has continued under Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

When Gov. John Hickenlooper hired Bicha to fix Colorado’s long-beleaguered human services agency, the former Denver mayor was promising the administration would exercise the three Es of good government — efficient, effective and elegant.

“He said we were going to measure everything we did to know whether or not it was effective,” Bicha said of Hickenlooper. “And C-Stat gives us a way to operationalize one of the governor’s three E’s, which was effectiveness. Is government actually making a difference?

“In this case, in human services, people come to us because something is a problem in their life. And this is a way for us to know, ‘Is the result we’re doing resulting in them being better off. And how do we know that? What does it look like? And if it’s not, what are we doing about it to make it better?’”

C-Stat meetings bring attention to such problems as re-traumatizing mentally and emotionally fragile people at state institutions while trying to provide for their care and safety. He cited a hypothetical example of male staff members restraining a woman who has been traumatized by rape. Seclusion also can be detrimental to some patients who are in crisis, he suggested.

C-Stat led to a review of individual patient’s cases to see why they were restrained or secluded, including whether DHS employees might be resorting to the practice more than they should. The result was to try “verbal Judo,” how to talk someone down rather than hold someone down. The institutions set up “mini spas,” as Bicha called them, where patients could go voluntarily to relax in a recliner under weighted blankets and soft lighting while listening to soft music.

“They could de-escalate themselves, rather than us putting them in a seclusion room and locking the door,” Bicha said.

Transparency and results

The meetings and problem-solving also offer transparency and yield valuable data. The public can review the C-Stat issues and follow the progress on the department’s website.

“When we go ask for legislative or budgetary changes they’re almost always linked to something we’re looking at in CSTAT,” Bicha said.

“When it comes to child welfare workers at the county level, I can very clearly show what’s not getting done for kids and what performance issues are risk because the counties don’t have enough employees, enough social workers to do the work,” Bicha said.

With C-Stat, lawmakers and local government leaders work off common data and timelines.

“That sort of alignment is critical to make sure we’re all rowing in the same direction for the people we’re serving and we’re using the taxpayer’s resources as efficiently as we can, and most importantly, when people come to us, sometimes on the worst day of their lives they can have greater assurance we’re doing everything we can to make sure they’re getting the right service in the right way at the right time.

“And, lastly, if we’ve got stuff that’s not working, let’s stop doing that, alright?”

Bicha has no illusions about what happens when Hickenlooper is no longer the governor in a year and a half. Whether the governor is a Republican or a Democrat, he or she would probably bring in a new human services director, Bicha said.

“I hope people look back over these last eight years and say it wasn’t always the easiest road, but we always had a north star about being the most effective system,” he said. “Sometimes that meant confronting things that made people uncomfortable or uneasy, sometimes it meant getting myself in a little bit of trouble with other branches of government, but it always what was most important was the people we serve and the taxpayers who are resourcing us, and how do we make certain we’re focusing on them, as well.”


Joey BunchJoey BunchJune 22, 20172min640

Starting Monday it will be Ki’i Powell’s job to make sure people in need get the help the state can provide. The Colorado Department of Human Services named her director of the Office of Economic Security.

She replaces Phyllis Albritton, who was hired last year.

The office is in charge of child support services, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, Colorado’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and services for refugees.

“For years, all of CDHS — including the Office of Economic Security — has relied on Ki’i’s expertise when making important decisions that affect some of the most vulnerable people in the state,” DHS executive director Reggie Bicha said in a statement. “Ki’i has been deeply involved with OES to understand its processes and outcomes, and has worked closely with the staff in counties statewide to help them succeed. Her passion for CDHS’ work and improving people’s lives, combined with her deep expertise in OES’ programs, made her an ideal choice to be the new director of OES.”

Powell is a licensed psychologist and holds a doctorate in psychology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She joined DHS in 2010 as the research and evaluation manager for its Division of Child Welfare and held research and evaluation roles with the Colorado Division of Mental Health Data and Evaluation and the Hawaii Department of Health’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Division.

Since 2011, Powell has been DHS’s performance management director, overseeing the department’s five-year-old C-Stat performance management measures.

“I’m very excited to serve the Colorado Department of Human Services in this new capacity,” Powell said in a statement. “I look forward to continued collaboration with OES staff, county partners and our contractors to help improve the lives of Coloradans.”

Joey BunchJoey BunchJune 1, 20176min24
The Colorado Department of Human Services is celebrating some good news for the people it assists with the governor’s fresh signature on three laws Wednesday. House Bill 1284 requires background checks for those working directly with at-risk adults. House Bill 2017 to steer children younger than 13 to programs instead of incarceration for low-level offense. […]

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Joey BunchJoey BunchMay 19, 20174min230

Jail cells are no longer a substitute for the help needed by people in behavioral and mental health crises in Colorado.

Thursday Gov. John Hickenlooper signed legislation on 72-hour mental health holds, a significant issue for Colorado’s far-flung rural areas, where proper help can be hours away. When there’s not a hospital nearby to take a person in crisis, a jail cell often is the landing spot, even if the person hasn’t committed a crime.

Colorado Politics’ Peter Marcus first told you about the dilemma and legislative efforts in January.

“Until now, people in Colorado could spend up to 72 hours in jail simply because they had a behavioral health issue and needed help,” said Nancy VanDeMark, director of the state’s Office of Behavioral Health, in a statement.

“Through the hard work of many people, we’re now able to expand and enhance the availability of crisis response services statewide. Coloradans in crisis will be connected with the right behavioral health services in an appropriate setting.”

Senate Bill 207 abolishes the practice of locking up people simply because of mental health distress. Instead, the new law creates a needs study, regional contractors, training for first-responders, community partnerships, mobile units and, by Jan. 1, a 24-hour walk-in center on the Western Slope.

The Department of Human Services, which runs the state’s response program, will get about $7.1 million from marijuana taxes next year and $7.4 million the next year to extend and bolster services across the state.

About $5.2 million a year will go toward law enforcement and mental health professionals working together on ways and means.

The bill had strong, diverse leadership. Republican John Cooke, the retired Weld County sheriff, and liberal attorney Daniel Kagan sponsored the bill in the Senate. In the House it was led by Deomocrat Joe Salazar, a civil rights lawyer and Democratic attorney general candidate, with former Top Gun pilot Lang Sias.

The legislation passed the Senate 27-6 and the House 51-14.

Lawmakers and DHS have been focused more intently on behavioral health response since the Aurora theater shooting in 2012, when clues were missed that might have led to a better intervention with gunman James Holmes, who killed 12 people and injured at least 70.

The next legislative session lawmakers passed Senate Bill 266 to appropriate about $29 million to create many of the services being extended to rural areas this year.

Four years ago the bill charged the Department of Human Services with creating a 24-hour hotline staffed by mental health professionals.

Since it launched in October 2014, the hotline has heard from 293,663 people, or about 1 in 20 Coloradans, according to DHS’s count.

The line can be reached at 1-844-493-TALK (8255) or by texting TALK to 38255.