After Aurora Shooting, A 'New Way Of Responding' To Mental Crises In response to the 2012 theater killings, Colorado added clinics, hotlines and mobile units to support early crisis prevention. At the heart of the initiative are 13 walk-in crisis centers.
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After Aurora Shooting, A 'New Way Of Responding' To Mental Crises

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After Aurora Shooting, A 'New Way Of Responding' To Mental Crises

After Aurora Shooting, A 'New Way Of Responding' To Mental Crises

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Jury selection begins tomorrow in the trial of James Holmes, the man accused of killing 12 people in a shooting spree at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. That happened in 2012. One of the reasons it's taken so long to get to court is the defendant's plea - not guilty by reason of insanity. He's undergone two court-ordered psychiatric evaluations. The case pushed the state to revamp its approach to mental health, including an approval of $20 million by state lawmakers. That, in part, has paid for new crisis centers. Grace Hood, of member station KUNC, has more on what's changed.

GRACE HOOD, BYLINE: The structure of a mental health crisis varies dramatically from person to person. For Colorado resident Cindy Binger, everyday life events suddenly weren't computing.

CINDY BINGER: When you go through a crisis, you're confused. You can't distinguish from right from wrong. Your thought patterns are off. They don't gather and complete.

HOOD: More than a decade ago, Binger struggled to make sense of traumatic events that happened in her life. She grappled with deep questions about alcohol abuse and simpler ones about where to get help.

BINGER: For me, it was trying to get people to understand what I was going through - to feel what I was going through. And that was hard.

HOOD: Finding the right resource becomes more difficult if your emergency happens at 9 at night or on a Saturday or if you're a grad student living alone off-campus. That's where Colorado's 13 walk-in crisis centers come into the picture.

LARRY POTTORFF: The first priority is, why are you here and how can we help?

HOOD: Larry Pottorff is executive director of North Range Behavioral Health, one of several agencies partnering with the state to provide new crisis services in the years since the Aurora shooting.

POTTORFF: This is the entryway, and so this will be available to people around the clock.

HOOD: He's standing inside a softly lit waiting room in Greeley, Colorado. The reception desk and waiting chairs - everything here is brand new. A receptionist does not ask someone in crisis to fill out forms. There are no insurance cards exchanged.

POTTORFF: I really think of it as a new way of responding to people in crisis. Historically, that's been done through emergency rooms.

HOOD: The new system includes walk-in centers, a statewide hotline and mobile units that can be dispatched in the event of crisis. All this was set up through legislation sponsored by State Senator Irene Aguilar. She says the Aurora Theatre and Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings highlighted a need.

IRENE AGUILAR: One of the issues that both of these events brought up was that we frequently have people in our community who are struggling with mental health issues and can't get the care that they need.

HOOD: Aguilar says future success depends on creating a continuum of care from crisis response to stabilization to safe return into the community.

AGUILAR: This was not just a let's settle the fire, but let's get rid of whatever else is going on under there so that this doesn't happen again.

HOOD: In a new respite care program, where crisis patients can stay up to 14 days, there's a close hand-off it between walk-in crisis centers and community services.

BINGER: OK, at 2 o'clock this afternoon?



HOOD: Cindy Binger, who struggled with her own crisis a decade ago, reviews doctor appointment times with a client. As a peer specialist in the respite center, she's now offering support.

BINGER: It took me a long, hard process - a journey, I should say - to get where I'm at. And if the respite would've been there for me, it would have made it easier.

HOOD: There's no guarantee that Colorado's new system will entirely prevent the next Aurora theater shooting. Mental health experts simply hope it will narrow cracks in the system, making it harder for the next person in crisis to slip through. For NPR News, I'm Grace Hood in Greeley, Colorado.

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