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Kansas Sheriffs Want Legislature To Address Mental Health Care Issues

Stephen Koranda
Kansas Public Radio/File photo

Kansas sheriffs are asking lawmakers for help in dealing with mental health issues affecting counties statewide.

Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter, representing the Kansas Sheriffs' Association, provided a snapshot of the situation at a workshop in Topeka this week.

Easter told lawmakers the number of calls coming into sheriff’s offices that involve people with mental health issues is rising to a new level.

Credit Sedgwick County Sheriff Twitter
Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter speaks at a mental health workshop in Topeka on Monday.

Easter said the county's mental health staff estimates that 40 percent of the inmate population at the Sedgwick County Jail are suspected of having mental illness, 73 percent of all inmates housed have a chemical dependency and a vast majority with mental illness also have a dual diagnosis of substance abuse.

Rural counties report fewer mental health services available, which forces people to travel farther and bear the related costs of travel for treatment. Kansas policies or services that are financed or supported on a per-capita basis result in underfunded programs and service shortages in more than 80 percent of the rural areas of the state.

He said with fewer state services available, jails and hospitals are overburdened, wait times for mental health competency evaluations are up and criminal proceedings are delayed.

"We have wait times of over 100 days for folks who have been ordered by a judge for a competency hearing, and once they get into Osawatomie, then that’s usually about a three-month evaluation," Easter said.

Easter and the Kansas Sheriffs' Association are asking the Legislature to change the competency evaluation process at Larned and Osawatomie state hospitals.

They also want the state to reconsider the termination of Medicaid during incarceration and to provide regional mental health care.

The Kansas Sheriffs' Association was one of several organizations on the frontlines of mental health issues to participate in the workshop Monday. Other presenters were from the Kansas Hospital Association, Kansas District and County Attorneys Association, Association of Community Health Centers of Kansas, Via Christi Health and the Sedgwick County Community Crisis Center.


Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar.

To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.


Deborah joined the news team at KMUW in September 2014 as a news reporter. She spent more than a dozen years working in news at both public and commercial radio and television stations in Ohio, West Virginia and Detroit, Michigan. Before relocating to Wichita in 2013, Deborah taught news and broadcasting classes at Tarrant County College in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area.