About the Initial Investigation
Colorado consistently is near or at the bottom of national rankings for prevalence of mental illness and suicide, stigma around mental health challenges and access to behavioral health care. Without any explanation for those rankings from state agencies and officials, COLab journalist Susan Greene started to look for reasons.
She found mental health clients, caregivers and local officials throughout the state pointing to problems with the 17 community mental health centers that make up the core of Colorado’s mental health safety-net system and pointing to state regulators’ failure to oversee those centers.
Greene dug in to investigate. She found that the centers lack competition, transparency and accountability. And they have gone virtually unregulated as their powerful trade group long has persuaded state agencies not to oversee them very closely. This has left hundreds of millions of state and federal tax dollars unaccounted for. And it has left an untold number of Coloradans in crisis without the mental health care they urgently need.
Prior to now there had been no close media scrutiny of this system in its 60-year history largely because of the complexity of the system. It took months for Greene to unravel the workings of this system that spans the 17 nonprofit community mental health centers (not directly subject to open records laws), 18 state agencies and 75 individual programs.
The investigation yielded three main stories:
- Greene’s examination of how and why Colorado’s mental health safety net is “failing” Coloradans
- A look at how an unprecedented shortage of behavioral health professionals has affected Colorado’s safety net system by The Coloardo Sun‘s Jennifer Brown
- A deep dive by Greene into the controversial West Slope mental health care provider, Mind Springs Health, and efforts by some communities to break free from Mind Springs and create their own mental health care center
This work is the initial investigative portion of a larger project, On Edge: Mental Health in Colorado, and is supported in part by the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Reporting and a grant honoring the memory of the late Benjamin von Sternenfels Rosenthal. Our intent is to foster conversation about mental health in a state where stigma and a lack of access run high.
The Original Series
The On Edge: Investigation was led by COLab veteran investigative journalist, Susan Greene, with contributions from COLab data journalist Burt Hubbard, reporter Jennifer Brown of The Colorado Sun, Denver Post photojournalist RJ Sangosti, freelance journalist LJ Dawson, freelance photojournalist Marc Piscotty, Radio Tricolor managing editor Samuel Bernal, Denver Post graphic journalist Kevin Hamm, Durango Herald photojournalist Jerry McBride and freelance photojournalist Dean Humphrey.
The project was edited by COLab’s Tina Griego, Silvia Solis, Alison Cooper and Laura Frank, Denver Post executive editor Lee Ann Colacioppo, Colorado Sun senior editor Dana Coffield, Pagosa Springs SUN editor Terri Lynn Oldham House, Aspen Times editor David Krause, Colorado Sentinel editor Dave Perry.
This ongoing collaboration includes some 30 newsrooms (and counting) across Colorado — large and small; urban and rural; public, nonprofit and commercial; print, digital, television and radio — who have used these stories, often localizing them for their communities and pursuing additional investigations. This includes (to date):
The Denver Post, The Colorado Sun, Radio Tricolor, The Canon City Daily Record, Summit Daily, 9News, Rocky Mountain Public Media, Aspen Times, Sky-Hi News, Lamar Ledger, Greeley Tribune, Craig Daily Press, Longmont Leader, Pagosa Springs SUN, Sentinel Colorado, Ark Valley Voice, Steamboat Pilot, Vail Daily, Pagosa Daily Post, Rio Blanco Herald Times, Ouray County Plaindealer, La Junta Tribune, The Coloradoan (Fort Collins), Pueblo Chieftain, Alamosa Valley Courier, Axios Denver, The Gazette (Colorado Springs), The Denver Gazette, Crestone Eagle, and Colorado Politics.