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Aug. 28, 2013
TOPEKA A new, "regional" initiative aimed at keeping mentally ill people out of jails or hospitals is expected to begin operating as soon as next month.
Angela Hagen, director of behavioral health at the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, said that draft plans for the five regional "hubs" where treatment services will be offered or coordinated should be finalized and approved by KDADS within the next several days and that the hub operations likely would begin in early September.
Hagen was a guest speaker today at a meeting here of the Kansas Mental Health Coalition. The initiative she described was first announced in January by Gov. Sam Brownback in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. school shootings.
Each of the hub plans varies somewhat from the others, Hagen said, but each meets the agency's goals of greater focus on crisis stabilization and intensive case management for the mentally ill. The hubs also will be expected to draw on assistance from other community resources to reach mentally ill persons who otherwise might avoid treatment. A main goal of the initiative is to forestall the sorts of meltdown that could land a mentally ill person behind bars or in a mental institution.
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Hagen said some of the plans - copies of which she declined to make public - called for expanded telemedicine services and "virtual counseling" as a way to extend certain types of psychiatric services to parts of the state where otherwise they might be scarce or unavailable.
The hubs were chosen by KDADS officials from among the 27 existing community mental health centers, which have a long history of providing localized services. The five hubs, which were named by KDADS in June, will have added reporting and service coordination responsibilities, Hagen said.
The hubs are:
Amy Campbell, the mental health coalition coordinator, and some others who spoke at today's and earlier meetings said they were concerned that other services provided by the mental health centers would be reduced to compensate for the new services being provided by the hubs since the state is not providing additional funding for the hub initiative and most county governments are reluctant to up their share of the centers' costs.
"A good question to ask is what services won't they be offering," Campbell said.
The directors of the five hub centers weren't at the meeting but were queried about that by KHI News Service after the meeting. None were immediately available to respond.
Hagen also was asked to describe the recently submitted proposals for use of the state's mostly mothballed Rainbow Mental Health Facility in Kansas City. But she said the proposals, which she described as "broad and diverse" were still being reviewed by agency officials and that she wasn't prepared to talk about them publicly.
"We don't have next steps," she said. "We'll let you know when we know more."
All but a few of Rainbow's 50 beds were closed in 2012 after federal surveyors cited the facility for being understaffed and after the State Fire Marshal found several safety violations. The Legislature subsequently approved money to remodel the facility with the idea it would be reopened sometime this year. But KDADS officials put those plans on hold and instead in July sought suggestions from various outside groups for ways the building might be used. Those proposals or suggestions were received earlier this month. But agency officials haven't said much publicly about what they were or which ones they might act on. Hagen provided no new information about the process during today's talk.
In other news from the meeting:
Rick Cagan, executive director of the Kansas chapter of the National Assoociation for the Mentally Ill, described the mental health coalition's advocate recruitment and training efforts, which were launched last month. Cagan said the group hoped to have at least one advocate in each of the state's 125 Kansas House districts in time for the 2014 legislative session but that it was struggling to find people to participate in a day-long training session planned Sept. 7 in Hiawatha. Training events also are planned Sept. 14 in Dodge City, Sept. 28 in Manhattan and Oct. 5 in Hays.
Cagan said about eight people had signed up for the Manhattan session and that the group was running ads in western Kansas trying to generate interest in the Dodge City session.
Former State Reps. Sean Gatewood and Carolyn Weinhold, now working with the Kansas Health Consumer Coalition, described their organization's developing efforts to persuade Kansas lawmakers to approve expansion of the state Medicaid program in keeping with the original intent of the Affordable Care Act, which is commonly referred to as Obamacare.
Conservative Republicans opposed to Obamacare control both chambers of the Kansas Legislature and so far have shown no interest in broadening eligibility for Kansas Medicaid, which remains one of the nation's most restrictive programs. The federal government currently covers almost 60 percent of the cost of the state's $3.2 billion annual program. Under Obamacare, the feds would cover all the cost of newly eligible Medicaid enrollees, but state officials have said they fear that federal commitment would vanish or wane over time, leaving the state responsible for the costs of a much bigger program.
Gatewood said the consumer coalition was trying to collect stories from across the state of individuals who lack health insurance so that they can be presented to legislators throughout the 2014 session.
He said the group also was distributing and collecting form letters supporting Medicaid expansion to give lawmakers and was sponsoring petition drives.
"We're trying to build like a pyramid of support for expansion," he said, "with a broad base at the bottom."
"We believe there is strength in numbers," Weinhold said.
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