Mental health initiative’s effects not yet apparent

By The Mercury

The impact on local mental health services of Gov. Sam Brownback’s $10 million initiative to boost programs aimed at targeted populations won’t begin to be known for several months.

The director of Pawnee Mental Health Services, based in Manhattan, on Friday praised the governor’s interest in funding the targeted populations initiative. But Robbin Cole said the details of the proposal, yet to be drafted by a committee, will say a lot about its impact, if any, on services here.

The initiative would direct funding to what Brownback called the most at-risk and challenging mental health patients to meet their specific treatment requirements.  It will do so by creating five regional centers where enhanced treatment options will be available. The state has 27 community mental health centers, but only three facilities capable of providing significant in-patient services.

The governor’s preliminary budget, released last year, envisioned eliminating $10 million in mental health funding statewide; the initiative announced Thursday effectively rescinds those cuts while re-directing the money to the new purposes. Cole termed the concept of creating regional centers, which will make in-patient treatment more convenient, “valuable, depending on where the $10 million comes out of to fund those five centers.”

She was concerned, however, that funds to operate the five regional centers might be taken in part from other existing centers, creating mental health system “winners” and “losers.”

“Families with mentally ill loved ones face daily challenges the rest of us can only imagine,” Brownback said in a statement announcing the initiative. He said the 27 community mental health centers “form our state’s critical mental health safety-net system.”

Part of the initiative would provide funding to the community mental health centers that demonstrate they are focusing on evidence-based programs that target the populations identified by the governor’s initiative.

Shawn Sullivan, secretary of the Department for Aging and Disability Services, said he expected to see an increase in patients receiving mental health services and an increase in the use of resources that support those individuals as a result of the initiative.

According to figures provided by the governor’s office, Kansas has increased spending for mental health services from $156 million in 2000 to more than $438 million in 2013. The bulk of the funding comes through the state’s Medicaid system. State grants for community mental health centers have decreased from a high of more than $50 million in 2005 to $37.8 million in 2013, though the state increased those payments by more than $6.5 million in the last year.

Brownback said in a recent interview with The Associated Press that the state should examine whether it’s providing sufficient mental health services in the wake of the Connecticut school shootings.

He said Thursday that he would be naming experts from the mental health, medical and criminal justice fields to serve on the task force.

Cole said she believed the shootings at Sandy Hook elementary school in December “gave the governor cause to pause” with respect to his proposed mental health cuts while intensifying the general discussion about the need to fund mental health services. That discussion is taking place in a context that includes closure of some mental health facilities, including a psychiatric wing at Manhattan’s Mercy Regional Health Center that was closed recently.

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