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Sheriff expresses frustration with mental health care system

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Delta County Sheriff Fred McKee last week released a press release highlighting the urgent need for mental health services for individuals who are a serious threat to our communities.

After sharing his frustration with the lack of options available to a mentally ill inmate, he says he received a positive response from the state Office of Behavioral Health.

"Although the subject remains in jail, I believe they're sincere about trying to find appropriate placement for this individual," he said on Monday.

McKee was a board member with Midwestern Center for Mental Health for 12 years and served as president of that board for two terms. He helped initiate the movement that eventually led the way for legislation which prohibits sheriffs from incarcerating individuals suffering mental health crisis without criminal charges. He was appointed by Governor Hickenlooper to a mental health task force to work out the details of this new legislation.

"Mental health care for our citizens is a serious matter to me," he said in his press release.

"With that said, I am very frustrated with the behavioral health care in our state."

He detailed the situation currently facing the individual in question, who is described as facing an acute mental crisis.

"He does have criminal charges but they are minor and he needs to be in a hospital. A district judge has issued an order stating that this individual has mental illness and as a result, is gravely disabled and long term care and treatment is appropriate. A senior mental health care provider has stated that he is the most seriously ill person she has ever worked with. A bio-hazard clean up team has to be called upon to clean his cell. Also, his immediate family and close relatives have all received restraining orders against him. He has been evaluated and re-evaluated several times in the last two months and placed on mental health hold and still all appropriate facilities in Colorado refuse to find a bed for him. These facilities all claim to be full, and perhaps they are, but I do not believe these beds are being used by people more gravely ill than this individual.

"I am confident that if a person suffering a heart attack presented himself to a primary care emergency room and they were full, they would find a bed for him. I believe the same should be true for our mental health hospitals and care facilities. When a person is sick, they should receive care not be locked up in our jails."

McKee said Colorado taxpayers provide millions and millions of dollars for mental health care, which is not sufficient but still the most critical ill should receive care.

"Colorado must sufficiently fund the state mental hospital in Pueblo so that they can take in these individuals that are a serious imminent danger to our communities," he concluded.

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