Facing mental health challenges

Robbin Cole

By A Contributor

May is National Mental Health Month. Pawnee Mental Health Services has provided community mental health services to individuals in 10 counties in north central Kansas for more than 56 years.

The issue of mental health has recently received increased attention due to widely pub-licized events. Most recently was the Dec. 14, 2012, tragedy in which Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother in their home, then shot and killed 20 children and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., before killing himself.

In the months that have followed, the Mental Health First Aid Act (S. 153/H.R. 274) was introduced in Congress. It would authorize $20 million to support public education and training on how to respond to indivi-duals experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis.

Mental Health First Aid is a public education program that helps people identify, under-stand and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. Pawnee Mental Health Services has trained 466 people in Mental Health First Aid since May 2011. For more information on a class near you, please contact

Another response of Congress is the Excellence in Mental Health Act (S. 2257) which would create federally qualified behavioral health centers (and establish national standards and oversight for them.

Proponents say these centers will reduce costs to taxpayers through integrated care strategies that prevent the development of costly health problems and disease com-plications. This is the same premise upon which the governor’s KanCare Medicaid program is based. 

Individuals with diabetes and serious mental illness covered by the KanCare Medicaid program are scheduled to be assigned to “health homes” by Jan. 1, 2014. The health home model will move the Kansas Medicaid program from a fee-for-service based model in which providers are paid based on how many units of service they provide, to an outcomes-based model in which providers are paid based on the health outcomes (results) in their member population.

A response of the governor to the Newton tragedy is the Governor’s Mental Health Initiative. It allocates $10 mil-lion to the Kansas Community Mental Health System for the creation of five regional recovery support centers that would provide intensive services to some of the state’s most difficult to treat individuals. This is not new money. The Family Centered System of Care program ($4.75 million) will not be funded in FY2014 and $5 million will be cut from Mental Health Reform funding.

Family Centered System of Care funding provides mental health services for more than 6,300 children annually in Kansas with serious emotional disturbances and their families.  Mental health reform funding provides community mental health services for individuals who might otherwise require treatment in state psychiatric hospitals. State mental health reform funding has already been cut by 50 percent — $15 million — since fiscal year 2008.

We appear to be experiencing elevated levels of mental health distress in our society.  It can be debated whether this is an objective reality or the result of increased media coverage.  There does, fortunately, seem to be increased awareness of the issue and its impact on the individual, the family and the community, at both the state and national levels. There may even be elementary consensus on how to respond.

There are new initiatives. Sometimes these initia-tives complement one anther, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes these initiatives address the issue of stigma, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes these initiatives possess the potential for real change, sometimes they don’t. No doubt any effective change effort will be complex, will require vision and courage from its leaders and the cooperation of multiple stake-holders.

Please contact Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran and Rep.  Tim Huelskamp and urge them to support the Mental Health First Aid Act and the Excellence in Mental Health Act.

Please also contact your Kansas state senators and representative and urge them to support the $10 million in funding for the Kansas commun-ity mental health centers contained in the governor’s mental health Initiative.

Robbin Cole is the executive director of Pawnee Mental Health Services.

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