Visualize a large net suspended between the ground and a person performing or working at a height.
The net exists to catch the individual if he or she falls. It offers a sense of security and protection.
That’s what the safety net system of community mental health centers does in Kansas. It catches and helps people who are out on a limb because of a mental health disorder.
These are young kids who are acting out at school to express their hurt and anger. They are young adults who don’t fit in and are withdrawing and won’t ask for help.
These are persons living with chronic mental illness whose families worry about them but don’t know how to help. Chances are these are our neighbors, friends and family members. These are children, adolescents, men and women who may be only a few steps from “falling” if the safety net isn’t there to catch them.
Community mental health centers treat these individuals and families every day regardless of their ability to pay.
However, because of repeated reductions in Medicaid funding and grant dollars to serve the uninsured, community mental health centers in Kansas are being forced to reduce or limit services.
The mental health safety net system itself is now at risk.
Just recently, a number of community mental health centers across the state announced plans to reduce staff and services to clients. Wyandot Center, which serves residents of Wyandotte County, had to redefine and prioritize its services to serve those with the most serious mental health diagnoses and needs. These themes are recurring across Kansas as community mental health centers are forced to operate with fewer resources in the face of growing need.
We often don’t realize there is a safety net until that net is gone.
Who will serve these people if community mental health centers don’t or can’t because of a lack of adequate funding? It won’t be the overwhelmed state hospitals, which are already too short of psychiatric beds.
Private funders don’t typically fund ongoing operations. Private clinicians cannot afford to assume the volumes of people who have an immediate need for mental health services.
Will there be more suicides, run-ins with law enforcement, more homelessness, more incidents of violence experienced or perpetrated because people don’t receive needed help? These are real possibilities affecting people in the communities where we live. With increased recognition nationwide that mental health services are essential to individual and community well-being, we make the plea to policymakers for adequate funding of the KanCare Medicaid program for Kansans.
Our wish list includes expansion of Medicaid by the Kansas Legislature and restoration of state grants for mental health. We acknowledge the support of those elected officials who still care about vulnerable populations and advocate for their well-being and services to meet their needs.
We continue the uphill battle to preserve the safety net. The fact is that each of us could be just one step, one traumatic event away from needing that mental health safety net system to keep us or a loved one from falling.
Randy Callstrom of Prairie Village is president and chief executive officer of Wyandot Inc., the family of agencies providing community mental health and housing services and based in Kansas City, Kan. Wyandot Inc. includes PACES, Wyandot Center, RSI and Kim Wilson Housing.