Colorado mandates new rules for eating disorder clinics in response to patient complaints

Colorado’s eating disorder treatment industry will soon face tighter regulations of providers’ practices under a new state law spurred in part by former patients and providers’ accounts of punitive environments and treatment practices.

The law, passed by lawmakers this spring as Senate Bill 117, charges the state Behavioral Health Administration with issuing new rules for eating disorder treatment clinics. Those must include requirements for private and clothed medical exams, outside the view of other patients; specific accommodations for transgender and nonbinary patients; guidance for the use of restraints and other restrictions on patients; and an emphasis on obtaining consent before using feeding tubes.

Gov. Jared Polis signed the law Thursday. The rules, which the BHA must implement by Jan. 1, 2026, are in direct response to patients’ complaints about punitive practices at the Eating Recovery Center, or ERC, a national eating disorder treatment provider headquartered in Denver. Some have described those practices as traumatizing and counterproductive.

“I think it’s going to make a big difference in treatment,” said Sen. Lisa Cutter, a Littleton Democrat who sponsored the bill with Rep. Chris deGruy Kennedy and Sen. Faith Winter. “Treatment shouldn’t be worse than the disease, and this bill is going to prevent some really horrible practices and promote compassionate care that’s based in behavioral health best practices.”

Colorado is a U.S. hub for eating disorder care, in large part because ERC is based here. Amid an eruption of eating disorder diagnoses, which are among the most deadly mental illnesses, patients travel from across America to receive care in metro Denver.

But some of ERC’s patients have described a punitive environment at the company’s facilities, including allegations that feeding tubes were used threateningly, that weigh-ins were conducted using robes that could expose their bodies and that patients were not allowed outside for days at a time. Though some patients described success at the facility, others said treatment left them with new trauma and a resistance to future care.

Former providers have alleged that clinical staffing is chronically low within the company, which is owned by a private equity group. ERC officials previously told The Denver Post that they were working to address staffing levels.

A Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment investigation into one ERC facility last summer found that providers had intentionally ignored two young patients’ repeated suicide attempts, including leaving one patient on the floor in a corridor during one attempt. The investigation determined that the facility lacked oversight and had violated its own policies by failing to refer the patients elsewhere.

Top ERC officials decried the treatment identified in the report and said it violated their standards. The company has otherwise defended its approach and said that eating disorders are life-threatening diseases that require significant intervention and care.

In a statement to The Post on Friday, ERC chief clinical and quality officer Dr. Anne Marie O’Melia said the company shared the goals of the bill’s supporters.

“The elements of this bill are in line with our current practices and standards of care. We …read more

Source:: The Denver Post – Politics


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