Aurora’s lack of full-time mental health doctors may continue

The organization that provides doctors for the program says the city will end its contract at the end of the year, making it difficult to recruit them.

AURORA, Colorado. Aurora’s Crisis Response Team is supposed to send a police officer and a doctor to people with mental health emergencies.

Now, the program will likely remain without any full-time doctors for several more months. The crisis response team has been without any full-time mental health doctors for a month.

The organization that provides doctors to work with officers, the Aurora Center for Mental Health, said the city of Aurora would end its agreement with them at the end of the year, making it very difficult to hire more doctors before then.

“I think the most important reason we don’t have doctors at the moment is that the city decided to hold off this contract to bid. The way it happened was that we found out through our clinicians,” Kelly Phillips Henry, CEO of the Aurora Center for Mental Health, said. “We definitely wanted to be the partner of choice to work with the response team. Unfortunately, the city told us two weeks ago that they had made a different decision and would go with another provider.”

The Aurora Mental Health Center helped start the two joint response programs at Aurora and provides clinicians for both. Phillips Henry said officers told her doctors they would likely need to look for new jobs before she even found out that the city might contract with someone else two weeks in advance. Now, you think it will be impossible to hire new doctors in the next couple of months.

“We have this contract with them until December 31. Unfortunately, we will not be able to hire for these positions knowing the contract is about to change,” said Phillips Henry. “We are working with the ministry to see how best we can support it during this temporary period.”

In a statement, the City of Aurora responded, “Aurora Mental Health remains a very valuable partner with the city on many fronts, and the agreement it refers to remains in effect through the end of the year, pending completion of the Request for Proposal (RFP) city process began in August.”

The Director of the Crisis Response Team, who takes on a management role in the city, is trained as a physician and can answer calls when available. Aurora told 9News that’s about one day a week. She oversees multiple programs and does not work full time as a physician.

The city of Aurora is now transferring resources that would normally be assigned to other calls to fulfill the demand. The city’s mobile response team, another participating response program separate from the crisis response team, usually responds to low-intensity calls to the service that include mental health to allow police officers to focus on crime.

Now, a doctor and paramedic riding in a mobile response team truck are called in by police officers quite often to respond to different types of mental health emergencies.

The crisis response team has not been fully equipped since 2017, according to the city of Aurora.

that Audit The city of Aurora released in June laid out a long list of problems with the software.

Aurora911 does not have protocols for determining if a mental health crisis occurs and how to handle these calls. The review states that Aurora Police “lack strong policies governing interactions with individuals with mental health disorders”. That’s before the program went down to zero doctors.

The audit manager who wrote the report determined that he could not determine the effectiveness of the program because the city was not tracking the relevant data required.

The audit determined that “there is no data available citywide showing the number of mental health calls to the service received or answered.”

The City of Aurora referred 9News to its responses in the audit report when it was asked to answer specific questions about the reports’ findings and declined to be interviewed.

“It would probably be too late to consider appropriate funding rather than trying to braid it together through grants,” said Phillips Henry. “We’ve been able to move forward, but we’re definitely not dealing with the impact we can have in this city. It’s time to change in terms of how we think about financing this.”

9News has reached out to nearly two dozen police departments and sheriff’s offices across the state to see if any other organizations are dealing with staffing shortages for mental health doctors.

Of the dozens of departments that responded that also have joint response programs, no other department has a shortage of doctors like Aurora.

“I think we’re disappointed that this was the result,” said Phillips Henry. “Our community deserves better.” “They deserve to have communication available, the right kind of intervention available, and what this does is leave a gaping hole in our society in the meantime.”

RELATED: Aurora Police Don’t Have Mental Health Physicians for Their Joint Responder Program

RELATED: Summit County has a unique program to respond to mental health calls

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