GUEST COLUMN: Properly Fund Essential Public Services | Opinion

As a Coloradian who has dedicated my career to serving the people of this state, I was disheartened to see the recent Gazette Editorial Board article supporting a dangerous status quo in state service.

State employees who work tirelessly to maintain our roads, take care of our veterans and loved ones, bring the pandemic through our state, and more are paid more than 16% less than our peers outside of the world. state employment. Many have to work more than one job or even rely on food banks just to get by.

As a result, people have left the public service en masse, creating a whopping 20% ​​vacancy rate for public jobs. This results in a serious understaffing in state departments, making it nearly impossible to provide the Coloradians with the essential services they need more than ever. In some cases, this understaffing is also quite dangerous.

I know this firsthand, as I have been a mental health professional for 25 years and a government employee at the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo (CMHIP). I came to work at the public hospital, where we treat people with mental health issues, to make a difference in the lives of these patients. I love my patients. They are funny and interesting and they just want what we all want: independence, community and opportunity.

But the CMHIP faces serious challenges. Patients and staff are suffering because we are understaffed due to low salaries and underfunding. It’s a basic math problem that’s complicated by the backdrop of criminal justice and behavioral health systems that have been broken for decades. The Gazette has covered this issue in depth recently, which makes the board’s position even more puzzling.

Gazette reports confirmed what government employees face every day. Patients wait too long to receive intensive care so that they can stand trial or be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society.

We do not have the time, staff or resources to provide all the necessary treatment or sometimes to provide proper supervision. This creates volatile and sometimes tragic situations for patients and staff. We simply cannot afford not to invest well in public services.

Investing in our agencies and public services is an investment in our neighbors, our loved ones and ourselves. If we don’t, government agencies won’t be able to respond when we need services the most. Nothing has made this clearer than the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whether it’s caring for patients and veterans in our state hospitals, connecting struggling Coloradians with unemployment and housing assistance, or keeping our communities safe, employees of the state were on the front lines of this pandemic. We made the state run at full capacity, but these services had been underfunded and underfunded for decades before.

That’s why I was thrilled and relieved that state employees were able to work with the state of Colorado to negotiate this historic first contractual agreement. This contract will help us begin to address fundamental issues that affect government employees and the people we serve.

Our deal includes 3% increases for state employees to tackle low wages, which are the main driver of low staffing levels in most state agencies. Although the board seems to view them as exorbitant, the salary increases negotiated in the contract do not come close to the 16% spread. The increases are simply aimed at ensuring that government officials can better provide for their families.

One thing the board and I agree on is that the Colorado government does not exist to employ people. It exists to provide public services to the Coloradans, who have never needed robust and properly funded services as much as they did during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Funding these agencies properly is a critical investment that the Coloradians will reap the rewards of through clean air and water, safe roads, well-staffed and safe hospitals, accessible and responsive public services, and more.

We cannot fail to adequately fund the services that Colorado families, veterans and patients rely on, and then bemoan the lack of services when it is too late. This is something the Colorados cannot afford.

Sallette Thompson is a psychologist at the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo and a member of the Colorado WINS.

Sallette Thompson is a psychologist at the Colorado Mental Health Institute in Pueblo and a member of the Colorado WINS.

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