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KMUW, in partnership with Heartland Health Monitor, KCUR 89.3, and Kansas Public Radio, takes a deep look at the state of Kansas' mental health system.

Kansas Mental Health Centers Preparing To Push Lawmakers For Solutions

KHI News Service/File photo
Kyle Kessler, executive director of the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas, is scheduled to outline proposals to address gaps in the state mental health system Thursday at a legislative committee meeting.

The heads of Kansas’ 26 community mental health centers are preparing to push an ambitious set of proposals to address what they say are growing gaps in the state’s behavioral health system.

In addition to restoring funding cuts made prior to the Great Recession, the center directors want Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and lawmakers to expand a network of regional crisis intervention centers.

Currently, the Rainbow Services Inc., or RSI, center in Kansas City and one operated by Comcare in Wichita appear to be relieving pressure on the mental health system by stabilizing people in crisis who otherwise might end up in state hospitals, local emergency rooms or county jails.

In 2015 alone, RSI, which is funded by a $3.5 million grant from the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, saved almost $4 million in state hospital costs and another $2 million in emergency room costs, said Randy Callstrom, president and CEO of Wyandot Inc., the community mental health center that operates RSI.

To create an adequate network, additional crisis centers are needed in the northeast, southeast and western regions of the state, said Kyle Kessler, executive director of the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas. He said they would fill a treatment gap that exists between community treatment centers and state psychiatric hospitals.

“This is an opportunity to create a newer and potentially stronger treatment model,” Kessler said.

Kessler is scheduled to outline the CMHC proposals Thursday at a meeting of the joint legislative committee that oversees KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program.

The initiatives are urgently needed to address a variety of funding and structural problems — many related to KanCare ­— that have combined to create “a crisis” in the mental health system, said Bill Persinger, CEO of Valeo Behavioral Health Care in Topeka.

“We have nowhere to turn, it’s scary,” Persinger said Wednesday as he urged members of the Kansas Mental Health Coalition to support the proposals.

To address a growing shortage of psychiatrists, the community mental health centers will ask lawmakers to double the number of psychiatric residents at the University of Kansas by giving tuition breaks to those who agree to practice at a state hospital for two years or community mental health center for three.

Because more than half of the individuals who seek treatment at community mental health centers are uninsured, providers also are calling on Brownback and lawmakers to expand KanCare. Doing so, they say, would provide coverage to more than 100,000 low-income adults who currently aren’t eligible.

But Medicaid expansion may no longer be an option for Kansas and the 18 other states that for the past three years have rejected federal incentives to expand their programs. President-elect Donald Trump has said he intends to repeal most of the Affordable Care Act, the health reform law that authorized higher federal payments to states that increased their Medicaid eligibility thresholds.