Kansas communities face the continual challenge of helping those who are struggling with mental illness.
By SHAWN SULLIVAN
Special to The Star
While recent events have brought the issue to the forefront, the realities of having a mental illness are not new to the individuals and their families who experience this daily.
Many families deal with the constant anxiety of trying to maintain stability and safety while meeting the needs of their mentally ill loved one. It is a difficult situation, but one that is all too common. With one out of every five people affected by a mental illness at some point in their lives, this scenario takes place in many homes across the nation.
In Kansas, we have a publicly funded mental health safety-net system: our Community Mental Health Centers, or CMHCs, that strive to provide accessible, affordable care to those affected. The CMHCs engage in our local communities to help identify, serve and bring hope to Kansans and their families.
However, some mental health patients, despite having access to care, are resistant to treatment and refuse to engage with organizations that can help them.
These individuals often end up in crisis and experience repeat hospitalizations or worse, find themselves in the correctional system.
They also have a higher chance of ending up in detention or in foster care, increasing the cost and strain on those programs. Many mental health providers identify these individuals as their most challenging cases, yet also see this as an area in which the mental health system can be transformed.
That is why Gov. Sam Brownback recently announced an initiative to provide targeted funding to transform Kansas systems of care to better support our most at-risk and challenging populations. We propose to fund five to seven of our CMHCs to create a collective regional approach to targeted services such as intensive case management, care coordination, parent and peer support services, crisis stabilization services, in-home family therapy, family-focused services and other evidenced-based practices.
This initiative also will provide resources to further enhance the current system through the use of housing facilitators and employment specialists to work in communities to leverage additional resources to support these individuals.
We expect this initiative to result in increasing patient engagement with services and utilization of the protective factors that can help those affected by mental illness to succeed, no matter where they reside across Kansas.
At the same time, funding will be provided to all 27 CMHCs that demonstrate they are focusing on evidence-based programs that target at-risk and challenging consumers. This funding will be outcome- and performance-based, which will help ensure that tax dollars are being used to support effective programs.
Finally, Gov. Brownback has proposed the creation of a new task force to evaluate our current mental health system comprehensively and make recommendations for improvements.
The task force members will have expertise in the criminal justice system, the mental health community, the medical profession and academia. I am confident that the task forces proposals will offer innovative ways to solve the identified problems.
While many Kansans and their families currently live under the dark cloud of mental illness, my hope is that this new initiative will be the start of a brighter day.
Shawn Sullivan of Topeka is the secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services. He is responsible for overseeing and administering the states mental and behavioral health programs, Older Americans Act programs, the distribution of Medicaid long term care payments, survey and certification for adult care homes, home- and community-based services for older adults and persons with disabilities, and the management and oversight of the five state hospitals.