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Behavioral health provider blames lack of beds and facilities on state’s ‘unorganized’ process

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) - Many kids who need mental and behavioral health care are forced to go out of state or to a hospital due to a lack of bed space. One Colorado Springs provider is blaming the state.

Jodi Coyne’s 17-year-old son, Bryce, has severe autism. She said he had to wait months for a behavioral residential home while bouncing between emergency rooms and even a psych hospital.

“He became very destructive in our home,” Coyne said. We had dozens and dozens of holes in our drywall, shattered glass all the time, just damage throughout the house. It became a situation where it was simply unsafe for him to be home.”

In August, Bryce was admitted to a behavioral residential home run by Colorado Behavior and Learning Group. It was the organization's first residential home and Coyne said the change in Bryce’s behavior was night and day.

“Our relationship has improved greatly,” Coyne said. “When he sees us now, because I go to see him at least a couple times a week, he's happy to see us. It's not combative.”

However, the process for Colorado Behavior and Learning Group to open the residential home wasn’t easy.

“It's unorganized, it's uncoordinated,” said Elizabeth Ostendorf, the owner of the Colorado Behavior and Learning Group. “You have to go through multiple departments.”

Ostendorf said there are more than 15 kids on their waiting list and they just received a grant to start a new residential home, however, she is hesitant after the first experience. She said the process was complex, time-consuming, and expensive.

“That's how difficult it is to work with licensing, to consider giving up that grant, to just say maybe we just can't do it,” Ostendorf said.

While explaining the process, Ostendorf listed at least four different departments she had to go through for paperwork, inspections, licensing, and payments. She said she often faced bureaucratic red tape or runarounds from state officials. She explained one state inspector would tell her she needed certain locks or door knobs in the residential home and then a different inspector weeks later would tell her the new locks or door knobs aren’t correct.

“As a provider, you're kind of at the mercy of whatever they say and do, which costs you time, it costs you money, it takes away time you should be spending on the child,” Ostendorf said. “It's really risky and there's a lot of liability on the provider, so I think that's lending itself to why there's not a lot of beds here.”

She also said the state’s regulations for behavioral health are too broad. For example, what may be appropriate for a child experiencing depression, might not be in the best interest of a child with severe autism. However, she said state officials rely on these regulations for children of all different behavioral disabilities.

“It's important for us to just kind of make sure everyone knows why the beds aren’t here,” Ostendorf said. “It's not strictly because there aren't providers, it's because of how difficult it is to navigate the regulations and the licensing.”

KRDO13 Investigates reached out to multiple state departments involved in the process, including the Department of Human Services, the Department of Public Health and Environment, and the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing. We are still waiting for a response.

Ostendorf said she would like to see the state simplify the process, increase training for employees who visit facilities, and add regulations specifically for children with autism and other severe developmental disabilities.

Coyne has seen how beneficial the behavioral residential home has been for Bryce and is worried other families won’t receive the same opportunity.

“It's heartbreaking to hear those stories because I've been there and I know what they're all going through,” Coyne said. “I know that there is a path forward. The state just needs to simplify the process.”

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Quinn Ritzdorf

Quinn is a reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.


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