Steve Rose

This is one Christmas miracle amid budgetary gloom

Randy Callstrom is president and CEO of Wyandot Inc.
Randy Callstrom is president and CEO of Wyandot Inc.

It would be a great Christmas present to us.”

That was the reaction of Randy Callstrom, president and CEO of Wyandot Inc., after hearing news that a key Republican legislator from Johnson County, state Sen. Jim Denning, had pledged in an open forum to push for full funding for this critical mental health program.

With Kansas facing a $350 million shortfall, it is unusual these days in Topeka to carve out any social services agency from future cuts. It is doubly unusual because a Johnson County lawmaker was making a pitch for a Wyandotte County organization.

And in this case, it’s the right thing to do.

Wyandot, which serves 12,000 clients with mental illness each year, depends a great deal on state funding. Wyandot’s county funding is far less than Johnson County’s Mental Health Center, which is funded in part by Johnson County taxpayers.

Wyandot, like other community mental health centers, helps divert individuals from admission to Osawatomie State Hospital, the state’s inpatient hospital for the severely mentally ill.

Osawatomie is in deep trouble, due to performance problems cited by the federal government. For now, Osawatomie has lost all Medicaid and Medicare funding. The state is subsidizing the hospital to the tune of $1 million a month.

The hospital’s financial crisis and moratorium on voluntary admissions has forced individuals to look for help elsewhere.

Like other community mental health centers, Wyandot serves everyone regardless of ability to pay. Even while Wyandot leans heavily on Medicaid reimbursements, 10 percent of Wyandot’s $30 million a year budget goes toward caring for patients who have no insurance.

Key to diverting individuals from Osawatomie, as well as emergency rooms and jails, is Wyandot’s program called Rainbow Services Inc. The Johnson County sheriff calls the program a “port in the storm.”

RSI provides 24-hour assessment and triage to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis, as well as crisis observation, short-term crisis stabilization and sobering beds.

Individuals may stay for a few hours in the sobering or observation units, or the stabilization unit will house patients for up to 10 days. Many of those individuals would have otherwise been admitted to Osawatomie State Hospital.

RSI has its own grant from the state, which was just extended through June 2018 — absent any future reductions by the Legislature. Callstrom claims RSI’s separate $3.5 million budget saves taxpayers $5.8 million by diverting patients from other treatment facilities or jails.

This particular program is run as a partnership with Heartland RADAC and Johnson County Mental Health Center. Law enforcement officials from both counties bring mental health emergency cases to Wyandot’s RSI program.

Wyandot has taken its own budget hits. State funding was cut twice last year — almost $3 million — mostly due to reductions in what the state will pay Medicaid providers.

As a result of the cuts, Wyandot eliminated 50 staff positions, and more than 600 adults and children lost mental health services.

Wyandot is doing great work and deserves a pledge to avoid future cuts. Christmas is just the time to make that commitment.

Steve Rose, longtime Johnson County columnist: