If the overflow crowd attending a town hall meeting on the topic was any indication, there is pent-up demand in Johnson and Wyandotte counties for a new mental health crisis-stabilization facility set to open April 1 near 39th Street and Rainbow Boulevard.
The state-run Rainbow Mental Health Facility there closed in 2011 in the wake of fire-safety and other concerns. Kansas opened 30 in-patient beds at Osawatomie State Hospital to replace the ones at Rainbow.
Meanwhile, officials from the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services and state legislators got together to consider next steps for the aging facility in Kansas City, Kan. They concluded that the $3.5 million a year the state saved by closing the Rainbow facility could best be used by reopening part of it as a crisis-stabilization center. When he announced the decision Jan. 23, Gov. Sam Brownback described its function as a “port of calm” for those in crisis.
On Friday, the 55 seats set up inside the Johnson County Mental Health Center in Mission were all taken before the meeting began, and people — many representing law-enforcement and mental-health agencies — spilled out into the hallway.
Don Ash, sheriff of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., was one of those attending the meeting.
“I am 100 percent for it,” Ash said. “It’s not going to be what we once had at Rainbow, but it’s a whole lot better than what we have had since the closure. I like the model they have established, and I think it will be successful.”
Law-enforcement officers like Ash are expected to be some of the primary beneficiaries of the new Rainbow facility. Rather than arrest someone who is non-violently acting out a mental-illness or substance-abuse issue in public, Ash said, his officers will be able to take that person to Rainbow instead of to jail.
“Jail has become, by default, a mental-health stabilization center because of the lack of alternatives,” Ash said. “But the jail is expensive to operate, and this is a perfect alternative.”
Another person attending the meeting was state Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore of Kansas City, Kan., who, with Sen. Jim Denning of Overland Park, took the lead in working on the revamped Rainbow plan.
She called it “a real win for Wyandotte County and Johnson County.”
Wolfe Moore and others described a facility in San Antonio run by Bexar County as a model for the new Rainbow. A group of planners visited Bexar County to see it in action.
Documents distributed at the meeting described a series of steps that a person who comes or is brought to the facility might experience:
• Assessment/Triage: An intake center will be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
• Sobering Unit: A client can stay here for four to six hours to sober up.
• Crisis Observation Unit: Six beds will be designated for medically supervised stays of up to 24 hours.
• Crisis Stabilization Unit: Ten beds will be designated for patient stays of up to 10 days.
After that, patients will be connected to whatever community-based services — mental-health, substance-abuse or otherwise — they need, organizers said.
And no one will be sent back out onto the streets without a referral for help with housing.
Peter Zevenbergen Jr., president and CEO of Wyandot Inc., which serves as Wyandotte County’s mental-health center, said his agency has been cooperating with Johnson County Mental Health Center and Heartland Regional Alcohol and Drug Assessment Center to operate the new center under the Rainbow Services Inc. banner. He said hiring for an eventual staff of 30 to 40 people had already begun. Much work remains, he said, to make the center ready for April 1 occupancy.