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March 18, 2010
TOPEKA Adam Roberson, 31, said he has been living with mental illness for as long he can remember.
“It started when I was about 6 years old,” he said. “I’ve been in and out of the system since I was 10 years old.”
Roberson, who lives in Chanute, was among the 300 people taking part in Mental Health Advocacy Day on Thursday.
“What I don’t understand is why we keep sending all this money overseas to places like Haiti and Chile and Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq and then, at the same time, we’re cutting the programs that provide services to people here in this country who need them,” he said. “That doesn’t make sense to me. I mean, shouldn’t we take care of our own people first?”
Roberson, who has schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, said recent cuts in state spending have threatened his access to the medication that keeps him stable.
“I’ve already been to Osawatomie State Hospital once,” he said.
Roberson was accompanied by Linda Church, an adult case manager with the Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center in Chanute.
“With the cuts we’ve taken, our clients aren’t getting all the services they need,” Church said. “I’m afraid we’re headed back to the old way of doing things, which was sending them to a hospital and letting the hospital function as their community. That’s not good for anybody.”
Since July 2008, community mental health centers have seen their state-funded grants cut by 65 percent, their Medicaid reimbursement cut by 10 percent.
Centers use the grants to underwrites services for people who are uninsured, not eligible for Medicaid, and cannot afford to pay for services.
Deeper cuts are under consideration this year by the Legislature.
“We need to tell our legislators that people recover everyday – that recovery works, said Randy Johnson, an advocate from Wichita, addressing a forum at Memorial Hall across from the Statehouse. “They need to hear that and they need to know that recovery depends on services being available at the mental health center in that individual’s community.
Because of the spending cuts, most of the state’s community mental health centers have limited their services to those whose illnesses are considered severe and persistent. Many centers now have waiting lists.
“It’s a crisis. That’s the only word for it and that’s the word we used in our letter to the governor,” said Wes Cole, chairman of the Governor’s Mental Health Services Planning Council. “It used to be I’d go to national conferences and Kansas was always at the top or near the top when it came to mental health services. That was because our mental health centers were obligated to see anybody and everybody. Not anymore. We’re losing that. What’s going on now is a major setback.”
The advocates spent the afternoon meeting with – or trying to meet with – their legislators.