Health Forward Foundation

Kansas Legislators Address Social Service Advocates at Legislative Forum

Gamblers could help address the needs of the mentally ill in Johnson and Wyandotte counties.

State Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, told Kansas City-area social service advocates Monday that the state budget Gov. Sam Brownback proposes early next year could earmark about $1.5 million in projected gambling proceeds for improvements to the Rainbow Mental Health Facility in Kansas City, Kan.

The upgrades would allow Rainbow to operate at its 50-bed capacity. The Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services closed 14 beds at Rainbow earlier this year after federal surveyors said the facility was understaffed.

In the meantime, SRS has temporarily shifted many of the Rainbow patients to Osawatomie State Hospital. SRS took that step to make about $575,000 worth of repairs to correct deficiencies uncovered in September by the State Fire Marshal’s office, which are separate from the work needed to comply with the federal findings.

Colloton said the possibility of upgrading Rainbow with casino proceeds emerged when a legislative delegation from Johnson and Wyandotte counties, accompanied by local law enforcement representatives, met with SRS officials to urge them to make the needed repairs to the mental health facility.

According to Colloton, the 2007 law authorizing casino gambling in Kansas sent 24 percent of the proceeds to the state, though 2 percent of those dollars must be set aside to treat problem gamblers. The remaining amount could come to as much as $80 million in fiscal 2013, she said, and infrastructure projects are among the types of expenditures that gambling money can fund.

Included in the casinos that have advanced under the 2007 law is the Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway in Wyandotte County, which is scheduled to open early next year.

“I certainly hope that on behalf of the mentally ill community and all the wonderful providers who support them that we will see a revamped facility at Rainbow,” Colloton said to the approximately 125 social service providers and advocates gathered at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village.

Accompanying Colloton were state Sens. Terrie Huntington, R-Fairway and Tim Owens, R-Overland Park. The lawmakers discussed the prospects for safety-net issues in the 2012 legislative session at a forum cosponsored by the United Way of Greater Kansas City and United Community Services of Johnson County.

Monday’s event was the first of two such legislative forums the United Way of Greater Kansas City is co-sponsoring this week. Members of the Kansas City-area delegation in the Missouri General Assembly addressed the outlook for safety-net issues in their upcoming legislative session on Tuesday at the Southeast Community Center, 4201 E. 63rd St. in Kansas City, Mo.

That forum, held in conjunction with the Missouri Association for Social Welfare, is scheduled to include Democrat Rep. Mike Talboy, the House minority floor leader, and Republican Rep. Ryan Silvey, chairman of the House Budget Committee.

Also schedule to attend are Democratic Sens. S. Kiki Curls and Jolie Justus along with Rep. Noel Torpey, an Independence Republican.

All three elected officials at the Monday forum have duties that involve human service issues: Colloton is chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice Oversight; Owens is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee; and Huntington is a member of the Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund, which oversees expenditures coming to the state under the 1998 Master Tobacco Settlement between cigarette makers and states that sued to recover costs associated with tobacco-related illnesses.

Among the other issues the lawmakers highlighted were:

  • Colloton told the audience not to assume that Brownback’s proposed reorganization of state government, which includes a plan to contract with outside companies for the provision of Medicaid services, is set in stone. “I think the governor is willing to listen to concerns,” she said. But, she said, advocates should come prepared with facts and figures – not just anecdotes. One particular change in the governor’s plan that Colloton said she supported was excluding services for the developmentally disabled from the Medicaid managed care contract.
  • The continued discussion about expanding the scope of practice of licensed dental practitioners to provide services now commonly provided by dentists. Huntington predicted the issue would again be debated in the 2012 session, pitting dentists (who have raised health and safety issues) against rural interests who argue they need better access to dental care in their communities. Both positions have merits, Huntington said. “I could argue both sides of the issue,” she said.
  • Owens said the requirement to redraw legislative districts during the 2012 session could overshadow many other legislative priorities next year. Owens is chairman of the Senate Reapportionment Committee.

Brenda Sharpe wrapped up the two-hour discussion at Village Presbyterian. She is president and CEO of the REACH Healthcare Foundation and a trustee with the United Way of Greater Kansas City.

“I can just feel this little bit of agitation in the room – just a little bit,” she said. “I want to challenge you all to start thinking about how you are going to convert on that when you walk out of this room.”

Agency officials must enlist the support of their well-connected board members, Sharpe said. She also urged providers to personalize their appeals.

“I appreciate Rep Colloton’s request for data, and I know that’s important,” she said, “but I also know from experience that what can turn a legislator’s head is a good anecdote, and a good real-life story from someone who is living in their district.”

*Note: A story on the Missouri Legislative Forum will appear on on Thursday, December 15, 2011.

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