Denver, CO

Negative MHCD report raises STAR questions

David Heitz
City and County of Denver

A representative of Denver’s much-touted STAR program told the City Council Monday that Mental Health Center Denver has been found lacking in a recent investigative story in The Denver Post.

Mental Health Center Denver partners with social workers to provide a non-police response to situations involving people experiencing homelessness or struggling with addiction or mental illness. The program, called STAR, recently was expanded to all of Denver with help from a $1.4 million grant from the Caring for Denver Foundation.

Vinnie Cervantes, director of the Denver Alliance for Street Health Response, said the Denver Post story showed big mental health centers like MHCD received $592 reimbursement from the state for one hour of therapy. Individual therapists, meanwhile, made less than $100.

Center abandons woman’s schizophrenic son

In the Denver Post story, Janet van der Laak explains how Mental Health Center Denver kept throwing her schizophrenic son out of treatment. “What kind of safety-net system blows off the hardest cases?” van der Laak once wrote in a note to herself, according to the Post. “Giving up on Matt, giving up on anyone in crisis should not be an option.”

The investigation by the Colorado News Collaborative revealed that the most vulnerable patients were turned away. “Our investigation shows that the centers – most now facing workforce shortages – collectively have treated fewer clients during the pandemic than before it, despite skyrocketing mental health needs,” the Post reported. “At the same time, more than half the centers have been sitting on liquid reserves of $10 million or more. Denver’s center kept more than $40 million in liquid reserves while its clients faced record-long wait times for care.”

Cervantes told the City Council it should explain how Mental Health Center Denver was selected for the STAR contract without a competitive bidding process. He said the council must remain vigilant to make sure MHCD performs its duties.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best local newspapers in the country. Today, I report on Denver City Hall, homelessness and other topics for NewsBreak, much like I did in my twenties covering Newport Beach, Calif. for the Daily Pilot. I consider myself a lucky guy to still be doing what I love after so many years.

Denver, CO

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