Gardner, United Health Foundation, Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence Announce Behavioral Health Care Services Grant

Funding will support 39 behavioral health fellows to serve rural Colorado

Washington, D.C.  U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) joined United Health Foundation and the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence (the Center) to announce a three-year, $1.5 million grant to address the shortage of mental health providers in rural Colorado communities. United Health Foundation will make funds available to the Center to recruit and support 39 currently-employed rural Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Behavioral Health Fellows (APRNs), who will provide behavioral health care services to as many as 12,000 rural Colorado residents annually, increasing the rural clinics behavioral health care services capacity by approximately 25 percent.

 United Health Foundation

UnitedHealthcare CEO of Government Programs Brian Thompson, Senator Gardner, North Range Behavioral Health Psychiatric Clinical Nurse Specialist Dan Frantz, Colorado Center for Nursing Board Member and Psychiatric Clinical Nurse Ruby Martinez, Colorado Lieutenant Governor Dianna Primavera, and Colorado Center for Nursing President and CEO Ingrid Johnson at today’s grant announcement.

“I want to commend the United Health Foundation and the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence for their innovative partnership to improve access to behavioral health care services,” said Senator Gardner. “A zip code should never stand in the way of quality health care, and this collaboration will ensure expanded capacity to better serve the needs of Coloradans living in all four corners of our state."

“The Center’s vision is to transform health care through workforce innovation and this generous grant from the United Health Foundation will help us do that,” said Ingrid Johnson, DNP, MPP, RN, Chief Executive Officer and President of the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence. “Colorado’s population is growing and changing rapidly so we need new approaches to meet residents’ health needs like this behavioral health fellowship program.”

“APRNs are essential for providing primary care and behavioral health care in rural and underserved communities, and there is a pressing need for expanded behavioral health services in rural Colorado,” said Brian Thompson, Chief Executive Officer, UnitedHealthcare Government Programs.“This partnership with the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence will help rural Colorado residents lead healthier lives by training APRNs to provide the right care in the right place at the right time.”

APRNs will return to graduate school and earn a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) certificate. Fellows will receive application assistance, a financial stipend, support in securing their required 600 hours of behavioral health clinical practice and additional support services to ensure they successfully complete the certificate program and are eligible to receive a psychiatric-mental health credential from a national nursing board. Once they are certified, the 39 PMHNPs will commit to providing behavioral health care services for a minimum of two years in rural Colorado areas.

Currently, Colorado has 750,000 rural residents and its rural youth are twice as likely to commit suicide as their urban peers. In addition, nine of the 10 Colorado counties with the highest drug overdose death rates are rural counties. This grant is a welcome announcement for Colorado’s underserved rural communities.

In September, Senators Gardner and Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced the Mental Health Professionals Workforce Shortage Loan Repayment Act to improve mental health access in underserved areas. Their bipartisan legislation authorizes a new loan repayment program for mental health professionals who agree to practice in an area with a shortage of mental health professionals.

Senator Gardner is leading Senate efforts to establish a national 9-8-8 suicide hotline:

  • In 2018, Gardner voted for the National Suicide Hotline Improvement Act, which directed the Federal Communications Commission to evaluate using a three-digit dialing code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
  • This August, the FCC released their report, which found that a national three-digit line would improve suicide prevention and recommended a simple number that Americans could dial in times of crisis: 9-8-8.
  • In October, Senators Gardner, Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Jack Reed (D-RI) introduced S. 2661, the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which designates 9-8-8 for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline and ensures states have the flexibility to strengthen local crisis call centers. The bill ensures states are able to collect fees for the line, similar to the way they do for the 911 emergency line, and requires reports to Congress to help ensure effectiveness and operability of the line.
  • This month, nearly 50 mental health organizations and veterans support organizations announced their support and urged Congress to pass the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act.
  • At a press conference last week with Senator Gardner, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai announced the FCC will consider establishing 9-8-8 as the national suicide prevention hotline at their meeting on December 12, 2019.

Senator Gardner has made it a priority to fight the rise of opioids and meth in Colorado:


Cory Gardner is a member of the U.S. Senate serving Colorado. He sits on the Energy & Natural Resources Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, the Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee, and is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy.