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New Plan Lays Out Overhaul For Crisis Care In Wichita Area

Deborah Shaar
KMUW/File photo
Comcare's Community Crisis Center provides 24/7 services for people in a mental health or substance use crisis.

Crisis care in the Wichita area is about to undergo a major overhaul.

A new plan released Thursday lays out the steps to improving mental health and substance abuse services over the next five years.

The goal is to create a coordinated one-stop system to connect a person in crisis to the services they need.

Comcare executive director Joan Tammany is a member of the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Coalition, which created the plan.

"If we bring our resources together, and look at strategic ways to do things better, we’re going to advance our community," Tammany said.

The coalition is a group of leaders from law enforcement, health care, behavioral health programs, private businesses, education and local nonprofits. The group formed last summer to bring solutions for ongoing mental health, substance abuse and homeless issues in the community.

The streamlined approach to care focuses on three strategies: improving access to care; building communication, coordination and collaboration among service providers; and deepening the workforce pipeline for behavioral health professionals.

The plan suggests forming task forces to handle each of the strategies, and hiring an administrator/executive director within 90 days to implement the plan.

Tammany says the integrated care will be "patient-centric" so no one in crisis gets lost in the system.

"They have a different world view. They come from a different perspective. Their needs are what we need to address," Tammany said. "So having a focus on what it would be like to try to enter this system and get services when you’re in crisis is the viewpoint we’re trying to look at."

Read the plan here (story continues below):

One of the first priorities is making sure Comcare’s Community Crisis Center has the capacity to meet needs today and in the future. The crisis center started five years ago to provide 24/7 services for people who are having a psychiatric or substance use crisis. 

Tammany says now is the time to "right size" that program.

"Do we need to expand on the number of people who can stay overnight for observation? Do we need to have more longer-term beds? Do we need to have more hands-on assistance for that population in the moment?" she says.

Another important component of the coalition plan is getting service providers to work together in new and innovative ways to collaborate care.  The organizations working in mental health, substance abuse and homeless often operate separately due to how they're funded.

"We have a lot resources, a lot of providers in the community who can also assist this population and can do so very effectively," Tammany said.

She says she’s proud of the community and members of the coalition for engaging in some controversial, robust conversations around issues that are not always easy.

"We’re talking about members of our community," she says. "We’re trying to do the right thing for people, and it requires us to step out of our comfort zones to work differently with one another."

Once the collaboration is established, the plan suggests creating a virtual one-stop "shop" or co-locating services for convenience.

The coalition expects to adjust measurable outcomes as the plan moves forward. Some impacts could include reduced arrests, recidivism and readmissions, a cost savings from high utilizers, and fewer inmates with mental health or substance abuse problems in jail.