Sen. Cory Gardner: 'I know we can do better' on mental health

Senator hold roundtable with behavioral health students at Cherry Creek campus

For those skeptical that the federal government affects their daily lives, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner's conversation with some metro area high school students may offer some hope.

In Colorado, “we are losing a person every seven hours to suicide, and I know we can do better,” Gardner, a Yuma Republican, said at a Feb. 19 roundtable on mental health at the Cherry Creek Innovation Campus in the Centennial area.

The senator listened to students' experiences with programs at the career-technical education campus and talked about filling a shortage of behavioral health workers.

The Innovation Campus, where high school students in the Cherry Creek district come to learn skills in several trades — from construction management to cybersecurity — is where students like Adrianna Fitzgerald are preparing for jobs in behavioral health.

Health care professionals often end up burned out from their work, and the Innovation Campus' program teaches students how to care for themselves to prevent exhaustion.

“Not only are we helping others, we're helping ourselves,” said Fitzgerald, a Smoky Hill senior.

The campus works hand-in-hand with HealthONE, a network of Denver-area hospitals and clinics, on its health curriculum, according to campus principal Mark Morgan. It's a partnership that gives students a shot at transitioning straight into the industry after graduation.

“A big part (of addressing mental health) is the workforce,” Gardner said while speaking to reporters after the roundtable. “We need to get these pipelines filled. We have to remove the stigma around suicide and have discussions.”

Tackling the health workforce shortage is one policy area Gardner has recently targeted with a Senate bill he and Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat, introduced in September. The Mental Health Professionals Workforce Shortage Loan Repayment Act would authorize a loan repayment program for those who agree to practice in areas with a shortage of mental health professionals. The system would repay one-sixth of a worker's educational debt for each year of service, up to $250,000 over six years, according to a news release from Gardner's office.

A perhaps more direct initiative is Gardner's bill to make 9-8-8 the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Veterans Crisis Line, which currently are accessed through a 10-digit number. That bill was introduced in October by Gardner and Sens. Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat; Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican; and Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat.

“In a mental health emergency, it is almost impossible to remember the current 10-digit hotline,” and changing the number will help save lives and connect people to crucial support, a handout from Gardner's office read.

Colorado recently ranked among both the 10 highest youth suicide rates and overall suicide rates in states across the country, according to the Colorado Office of Suicide Prevention.

The Cherry Creek Innovation Campus is located at 8000 S. Chambers Road near East Broncos Parkway. It sits in the Dove Valley area of unincorporated Arapahoe County.


By: Ellis Arnold

Centennial Citizen