Health Forward Foundation

Mental Health Initiative in Kansas Still Not Enough to Cover Needed Services

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Officials here involved with the regional preparations for Gov. Sam Brownback’s mental health initiative say the administration’s plan doesn’t include enough money to do what needs to be done.

“There are things we could do regionally, but this money wouldn’t touch it,” said Peter Zevenbergen, chief executive of Wyandot Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides mental health and housing services here.

Wyandot Inc. hosted a meeting Thursday for area officials to discuss this region’s component of the plan, which they are helping preparing for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services.

Among the needs, they said, are a mental health crisis-stabilization facility with detoxification service and group homes for mentally ill people who need more structure and support than living alone in an apartment.

“The most glaring needs are the most expensive,” said David Johnson, chief executive of Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center in Lawrence.

The plan they are preparing is part of a $10 million initiative Brownback announced earlier this year during a press conference at Wyandot Inc. The $10 million wouldn’t add to current state spending on mental health services but would redirect some of it.

Spurred in part by the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., administration officials said the initiative would aim to deliver intensive services to individuals who have resisted treatment and who are at-risk of institutionalization in a prison or mental hospital.

Part of the plan is to establish five “regional recovery support centers” that would focus on crisis stabilization. Wyandot Inc. is coordinating the plan for a six-county region.

The regional assessments are due Aug. 15, and KDADS officials have said the plans should be ready to implement by December.

Northeast officials plan to meet again this week to go over a draft of their recommendations.

State officials have said they would earmark half the initiative’s funding for the regional centers, and officials in this region said they expect to receive about $1.3 million of that.

Officials at Thursday’s meeting agreed that providing psychiatric services to more people would be one of the best ways to target the funding.

But even then, they said, melding that into a regional plan would be difficult because the needs vary within the six counties that include communities as different as Overland Park and Atchison.

“We don’t make decisions as a region,” Zevenbergen said.

But he said the brainstorming among the regional officials was helpful and could lead to more regional approaches in future years.

Those at the meeting echoed criticism leveled by some at other regional meetings about the proposed funding for the initiative. The complaint has been that it in redirecting existing mental health dollars, the initiative would take away from other services.

The shifting of dollars, Zevenbergen said, means community mental health centers would lose funding for a program called Family Centered Systems for Care that used to come through the Kansas Children’s Cabinet, which oversees the state’s annual tobacco settlement receipts.

He said that had been a flexible funding stream for mental health centers designed to aid children and families.

At Wyandot Inc., Zevenbergen said, the $470,000 it received for the program paid for a variety of services, including child psychiatry, housing assistance, and lab work.

At the Johnson County Mental Health Center, said Executive Director Maureen Womack, they used some of the funding to help with children or meals so parents come in for services.

“That is one of the gaps this creates,” she said.

One big unknown for the Kansas City region is the future of the Rainbow Mental Health Facility here.

Officials closed most of the facility in November 2011 after it failed state fire marshal inspections. A small emergency unit is still operating, but most referrals are now to Osawatomie State Hospital, which is about an hour’s drive south of Kansas City.

KDADS this month issued a request for information from interested parties as agency officials try to figure out what to do with the facility.

“For all of us,” Johnson said, “crisis stabilization depends upon what happens at Rainbow.”

Zevenbergen said he expected that the state eventually would solicit bids for the property and he anticipated a proposal would come from the northeast region.

“It (Rainbow) could be used for a variety of things where there are gaps,” he said.

Zevenbergen said he has talked in the past to University of Kansas Medical Center officials about some joint use of Rainbow.

“They are always open to listening and talking,” he said.

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