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Mental-Health Reform Needs Funding

Opinion Press - May 28, 2013 10:13 am

Governor Sam Brownback announced Wednesday that he had named Brant Laue to the job.

Governor Sam Brownback announced Wednesday that he had named Brant Laue to the job.

KanCare isn’t the only state health reform that needs scrutiny. So does Gov. Sam Brownback’s mental-health initiative, which has some promise but lacks funding and focus.

In the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, Brownback announced in January that he would redirect $10 million in mental-illness treatment funding to target people who are most at risk of hospitalization or incarceration. The plan is to create five regional service hubs for intensive case management and crisis-stabilization services.

“I am committed to strengthening this system and making it more effective,” Brownback said at the time.

Better coordination of treatment options within service regions could be a good thing. But local mental-health professionals and stakeholders object that the money to operate these regional hubs is being taken out of funding for mental-health services for at-risk children and families.

“This $10 million is money that’s already allocated to mental health,” Janet Zwonitzer, a member of the Jackson County Commission, said at a recent meeting about reform in Manhattan. “They’re just taking it out over here and putting it back in over there, which means something that’s being funded now isn’t going to be funded.”

Marilyn Cook, executive director of Comcare in Sedgwick County, said that there are 6,000 at-risk children and families now being served by this funding, including 700 in Sedgwick County.

“There is no new money, and we are taking away from a population who needs it,” she told The Eagle editorial board.

And funding already was stretched. Though Medicaid spending on mental health in Kansas has increased since 2007, state grants to community mental health centers have decreased.

Robbin Cole, executive director of Pawnee Mental Health Services in Manhattan, said that her center has struggled for years with dwindling resources, the Kansas Health Institute News Service reported. “We had layoffs in 2009 and again in 2010,” she said. “We have 25 percent fewer staff today than we did in 2007.”

There is also a lot of confusion about how the regional centers would operate. And there is some concern that the state is moving away from a community-based model of mental-health services to a more regionalized approach.

The reform seems like an ad hoc, political response to Newtown, not something that was carefully studied and recommended by local mental-health professionals. In fact, administration officials had indicated before Newtown that Brownback was preparing to cut state mental-health programs.

Still, local mental-health leaders say they will try to make the initiative work.

“We are going to do our darndest to do a little bit more with no more money,” Cook said.

But is that a good recipe for reform?

City of Salina