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Mental health crisis center opens in KC as alternative to jail, emergency room

Long-awaited mental health crisis center opens Monday

The Kansas City Triage and Assessment Center, 2600 E. 12th St., held a grand opening ribbon cutting ceremony Friday, Oct. 28, 2016. Police, courts and hospital emergency workers anticipate that the opening of the center, the only one of its kind i
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The Kansas City Triage and Assessment Center, 2600 E. 12th St., held a grand opening ribbon cutting ceremony Friday, Oct. 28, 2016. Police, courts and hospital emergency workers anticipate that the opening of the center, the only one of its kind i

The throng that gathered outside Friday at the ribbon-cutting of the Kansas City Assessment and Triage Center for people in mental health crises brought with them painful memories.

Police officers who had regretfully taken suffering people to jail were there.

Medical staffers who had strapped people with psychiatric disorders to emergency room gurneys were there.

So were mental health caseworkers who are forever running out of safe options for clients in emergencies.

As were judges and court officers and policy makers — all caught in the unsolvable puzzles of helping victims of mental illness.

“It was overwhelming to see so many people,” said Lauren Moyer, a vice president at ReDiscover, which will be operating the city’s long-awaited answer to one of society’s most pernicious public health dilemmas. It brought tears to her eyes.

“This has been such a whole-community effort,” she said.

The center at 2600 E. 12th St. will bring aid and comfort to people long lost “in the shadows,” said Kansas City Municipal Court Judge Joseph Locascio.

It is a moment of grace, he said, for the people “who are the least politically powerful and least visible in our society.”

The center, with eight beds for stabilizing people in mental health crises and eight beds for people in alcoholic distress, will give police officers and medical teams a place to take people where they can stay up to 23 hours instead of housing them in jails or emergency rooms ill-equipped to serve them.

Mental health advocates, police and the courts for years had been trying to find a way to provide Kansas City with a crisis center but lacked funding. The opportunity finally came last October when the state negotiated with Ascension Health over the sale of two Kansas City area hospitals.

Because the sale of the hospitals transferred assets from a nonprofit entity to a for-profit entity, the state had the authority to negotiate terms for needed charities as part of the deal.

Ascension wanted to help the crisis center, and the Kansas City Assessment and Triage Center suddenly had $20 million headed its way — $2 million a year over the next 10 years.

Area hospitals that have struggled to move people with mental illness out of their emergency rooms and into appropriate mental health centers are also backing the new center. Nine hospitals are combining to add $1 million annually to complete the center’s $3 million-a-year operating budget.

They are Research Medical Center, Research Psychiatric Center, Truman Medical Centers, three hospitals in the Saint Luke’s Health System, St. Joseph Medical Center, Liberty Hospital and North Kansas City Hospital.

This is a work in progress, Locascio said, “a very good start.” But everyone involved will continue to improve the services, he said, and other communities and states will be watching.

One person after another Friday shared those moments when the failures in mental health services hit home.

For state Rep. Bonnaye Mims, who helped advocate for $2.5 million in state funds to provide more aftercare for clients who leave the center, it was a shooting death. She had assured a family she would help them see to it that someone struggling with mental illness would be kept safe, only to see it end on the street at 27th and Troost Avenue.

For Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner, who had joined in the planning and fulfillment of the center, his moment was learning of the death of a 19-year-old man with mental illness whose body was found in the woods behind a Wal-Mart near Interstate 35 and Missouri 152.

“A center of affluence,” Wagner said. Yet there the teenager had been, alone, homeless, with no one able to help him.

“That got me galvanized,” he said. “I knew. We can do better.”

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