Healthcare changes will keep fewer from falling through the cracks


DENVER – In the basement of a church on Emerson Street you will find fresh coffee brewing, a safe place to rest and help for those facing the challenges of mental illness. 

The CHARG Resource Center opened in 1989, and in the days since has offered mental health care to nearly a thousand individuals.

“We provide services to people in the greater Denver community who live with major mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar illnesses and major depression,” David Burgess, executive director of CHARG, said. “These people are almost exclusively on public assistance of one kind or another.”

CHARG is an acronym for Capitol Hill Action and Recreation Group.

“It keeps us out of trouble. It is very important for us, all of us who come here and realize how important it is,” CHARG client Zima Olson said.

Olson has been receiving care at CHARG for 22 years. He says he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 1976. Without a mental health care facility like CHARG, Olson worries about what he and other would do.

“We might relapse or fall through some serious clinical cracks or support cracks,” Olson said.

“I think there would be more homeless folks because a lot of what we do is help people find housing,” Burgess said.

Giving people the mental health care they need and a chance to get off the streets also diminishes the chances those individuals will become involved in violent crime. While the mentally ill sometimes are the perpetrators of violent crime, they are also vulnerable.

“The majority of them are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crime,” Burgess said.

While CHARG has been able to help hundreds of mentally ill individuals, they have also been forced to turn others away. CHARG gives priority to patients with Medicaid coverage and can’t afford to subsidize individuals who do not qualify.

“Unfortunately, the way we’re set up we really have to give preference to the people who have Medicaid or Medicare insurance, because we have to pay our bills, too. If we take a lot of people, who essentially we have to subsidize their care, the money has to come from somewhere,” Burgess said.

Colorado Access handles Medicaid insurance claims in the City and County of Denver. They currently serve approximately 13,000 mentally ill patients. While there are many more individuals in need of mental health treatment they are limited because they currently do not qualify for Medicaid.

“Those easily fall through the cracks because the only access to care they have is in an emergency room, and they might get brought there by a policeman or as part of the correctional system. That’s not the best place to get care, not a preventive way of getting care, it is just really an emergency basis,” said Gretchen McGinnis, senior vice president of public policy and performance for Colorado Access.

While thousands of mentally ill patients in Colorado currently struggle to find treatment there is hope for their future. Beginning in 2014, the Affordable Healthcare Act will make it possible for more individuals to qualify.

“We would expect that there are probably around 14,000 to 15,000 folks who currently have a major mental illness who are without coverage now who could be brought into medical coverage under the expansion program,” McGinnis said.

She says that by 2015 nearly everyone should be able to receive coverage.

At that point, mental health care facilities, like CHARG should no longer be faced with turning patients away.

“Our hope is that with the Affordable Healthcare Act continuing to be implemented that in 2014 there will be an expansion of people who will be covered under Medicaid insurance,” Burgess said.

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)