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Despite suicidal teens flooding Colorado ERs, experts say resources are dwindling

Despite suicidal teens flooding Colorado ERs, experts say resources are dwindling

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- A local mental health expert describes a rise in the number of teens with suicidal ideations flooding Colorado emergency rooms.

Briana Severine, the founder of Sanare Psychosocial Rehabilitation, says the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on teen mental health, including increasing mental health disorders.

While more young Coloradans are struggling, Severine says the resources are dwindling.

The rise in teen suicide is flooding emergency rooms due to a lack of resources for adolescents.

In June 2021, Children's Hospital Colorado told 13 Investigates they were forced to send kids out of the state to receive care.

"Currently we're actually shipping kids, our own kids in need, out-of-state to get care. So, at a time when they would benefit most from being in a place where they have family, support structures and familiarity is the exact moment when we are making them leave all of those things," Heidi Baskfield with Children's Hospital told 13 Investigates.

Across the state there has been a decline in treatment facilities— 30% in 2020 to be exact according to the 2020 National Mental Health Services Survey —which means emergency rooms across the country are taking a hit to housing suicidal teens overnight, maxing out their capacity.

Mental health experts say the crisis is growing by the day as new data shows more suicidal children are spending the night in Colorado hospitals.

"Crisis is real it is not hyperbole, we are really in high levels of need and they need a level of care that we haven't rebuilt successfully yet," said Becky Miller with the Colorado Association of Family and Children's agencies.

Only a handful of facilities in Colorado serve the highest levels of care for teens struggling with mental health issues.

And in the past year, four cornerstone agencies shut down. Now, there are 1,500 fewer beds available for teens.

"Between the four facilities that we closed we lost a combined total of 250 years experience serving Colorado kids," said Miller.

Becky Miller with the Colorado Association of Family and Children's Agencies says the primary reason for the closures is labor shortages.

"I know in the legislature this year several bills were passed that would create funding to create new beds, but the hard part is going to be finding people to staff those beds," said Miller.

Another reason for the closure of those facilities is the low reimbursement rates paid by Medicaid, the state insurance program.

The daily Medicaid rate in Colorado was roughly $400 from 2006 to 2021, per therapeutic residential bed which experts say isn't nearly enough.

"It comes down to finances and insurance funding and lobbying and having insurance companies increase their rates of reimbursement--- what I really hate is when parents say 'I can't send my kids to treatment, I just can't afford it," said Severine, founder of Sanare Psychosocial Rehabilitation.

According to the El Paso County Health Department, the number of teen suicides in the county decreased in 2021 from 2020.

Teen suicides in El Paso County

However, they tell us this is still a crisis that they are closely monitoring.

Author Profile Photo

Jasmine Arenas

Jasmine is an MMJ and Anchor for Telemundo Surco and KRDO NewsChannel 13. Learn more about Jasmine here.



  1. Using the reference above, there has been almost no change nationally — can’t find anything that says a drastic change in Colorado.

    “There was a net decrease of 197 eligible responding facilities between 2019 and 2020, from 12,472 to 12,275 facilities.”

    What I am finding is that there are about 60,000 mental health clients in Colorado and 189 facilities, so one facility for about every 300 patients. When we are told that ER beds are “maxed out”, what that means is that if the hospital has designated 100 beds and they need 120 beds, they are over capacity. But, also, if they have designated 3 beds and they need 4, that’s also “maxed out”.

    1. You’re missing a very important point, one that isn’t made clear in this article. These teens, or anyone with mental health issues for that matter, cannot be admitted and placed in any “normal” hospital bed or ward. Outside of the ER, hospital staff simply do not have the necessary training and skills to handle this patients. As for the ER staff, all they can realistically do is stabilize the patient while simultaneously trying to locate an available bed in a mental treatment facility that’s within a reasonable distance.

      1. Yes, and the revised story makes it clear that it is about staffing shortages, which is legitimate. But I imagine you get my point, any business will see it’s client base change over time and it needs to adjust. We have fewer COVID patients, fewer geriatric patients, more autoimmune, more mental health. Needing to adjust is not necessarily a cause for alarm, it’s normal.

    2. Another misunderstanding in your post is regarding beds. I don’t know of any hospital in the State, or Country for that matter, that has 100 ER beds. One hundred beds total, sure. And the article clearly states that this is an ER issue compounded by an insufficient number of available mental health facilities/beds.

      1. Of course there aren’t 100 ER beds, I don’t think it even works that way in the ER? My exaggeration was to point out that the term “maxed out” is meaningless without an understanding of the ac tual si tuation. I’m “maxed out” on ER beds, also, since I have none so if someone needed one he’d be out of luck. My protest is the way these terms and stats are being used by these or ganizations, often without reference, usually without co ntext, to alarm and manipulate.

  2. Mainly because they allowed large corp. like diversis health to move in and take over mental health care only one problem the result was a large number of counselors and other staff leaving due to them not liking the new environment.

    1. This is the story to pursue, why there is a labor shortage, and there will likely be many reasons.
      Also a story, why we are seeing an obvious increase in stress in the young. We need independent investigation, though, because these organizations will spin stories to create alarm, divert to the most sensational issue (it’s COVID now), and pressure the public for increased government funding.

  3. Well at least our govt is approving and sending 40 Billion to Ukraine while our kids suffer with mental health issues and our hospitals are struggling to keep up with that.

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