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$14K bonus offered to address nursing shortage at state mental health facilities

CBS Colorado 3/18/2023 Karen Morfitt

Colorado is offering a $14,000 sign-on bonus to get nurses into some of the state facilities.

According to the Colorado Department of Human Services, roughly 100,000 nurses left the field nationwide during the first year of the COVID pandemic, while there's been a 10% increase in demand for mental health nurses.

The state currently runs two state psychiatric hospitals and both have open beds

"In Pueblo, at the hospital there we have 82 beds dedicated to these forensic patients that we cannot open, they are there," said Leora Joseph, director of the Office of Civil and Forensic Mental Health.

In Fort Logan, they have a brand-new wing with 44 beds and only half are being used for the forensic patients they were aimed at serving.

"This isn't a bed shortage per say it is a staffing shortage," she said.

Joseph oversees both of those hospitals under the Colorado Department of Human Services. She says without nurses the waitlist to get treatment in their facilities is growing.

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"We are getting an increase in about 50% since the pandemic referrals from the court asking us to treat patients in the state hospital," she said.

That means criminal cases across Colorado where a judge orders a competency evaluation of a defendant are stalled.

"Sometimes those delays have just been so long, the cases end up dismissed or don't go forward," said Tim Lane with the Colorado District Attorney's council.

Lane has been working with lawmakers to find solutions for years with a community restoration program as one of those with potential.

He says when an evaluation is delayed the impacts are felt by everyone involved in a case.

"You know, every time one of these cases dismissed it. It goes against justice, and it that might be justice for the victim. It might be justice for the community. But it is a decision that's made based upon resources and whether we can get somebody into the state hospital to get restoration treatment rather than based upon the facts of the case or what they may or may not have done," Lane said.

Joseph says filling the positions is a priority for the department and they are now offering a $14,000 bonus to get nurses in the door.

"We are applying this bonus to brand new nurses as well they don't need to have a specialty in forensics they just need to really care and want to be part of our team," she said.

She hopes more competitive recruiting will be part of the solution.

"We want to serve these people we want to help and we are trying our best to be able to accommodate but it is a big source of frustration," Joseph said.

In 2011, the state was sued over the backlog of people waiting. They are now fined every year when someone waits more than 28 days currently some are waiting more than 200 days.

You can learn more about the open positions by visiting the Colorado Department of Human Services website.

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