Editorials

New mental health crisis center is a good first step, but much more is needed

Attorney General Chris Koster (center), along with state, county, city and foundation officials, announced an agreement with Ascension Health for $20 million in financial support for a planned mental health assessment and triage center at 2600 E. 12th St.
Attorney General Chris Koster (center), along with state, county, city and foundation officials, announced an agreement with Ascension Health for $20 million in financial support for a planned mental health assessment and triage center at 2600 E. 12th St. Special to the Star

A new resource for people in the throes of psychiatric and substance-abuse crises is badly needed in Kansas City. Police and others continually struggle to find a place for citizens whose mental or emotional state makes them a threat to themselves or others.

So a planned stabilization and assessment center at 12th Street and Prospect Avenue marks a step forward, even if its financing represents a further retreat for the state of Missouri’s role in mental health care.

The state Department of Mental Health handed off the role of dealing with people in crisis in 2009, when it contracted out most of the services at the former Western Missouri Mental Health Center. Truman Medical Centers’ behavioral health services took over much of the facility at 1000 E 24th St., including a 12-bed emergency room.

But Truman announced last month it was shutting down the emergency room. Fortunately, the planned new center will pick up the slack, although it won’t open until sometime in 2016.

The new assessment center will operate with funding from a pot of charitable money created when Ascension Health finalized the sale of two Kansas City hospitals. Under an agreement directed by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, an as-yet-to-be-determined operator will receive $2 million a year over the next 10 years to run the center. Area hospitals and other charities will be asked to contribute a total of about $1 million a year to fully finance the operations.

Sales of nonprofit hospitals often include a charitable component. Koster initiated discussions with leaders in Kansas City about the best use for the $20 million that Ascension agreed to set aside. It didn’t take long to settle on a mental health crisis center.

Too often, people with severe psychiatric and substance abuse problems cycle through hospital emergency rooms, homeless shelters and jails. The new 16-bed center will attempt to stop that with a streamlined admissions process, inpatient stays of up to 96 hours and referrals to community services.

Its success will depend on the state and community being willing to provide other needed services. Community mental health centers often are in triage mode, and Kansas City is short on intermediate- and-long-term treatment options for people with severe mental illness.

The crisis stabilization center will be a good start. But without good services to help clients with the next step, it will become just another stop on the cycle to nowhere.

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