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Kansas Crisis Centers Say New Law Creates Mental Health Funding Need

Meg Wingerter
Kansas News Service
Valeo Behavioral Health Care in Topeka is one of three Kansas crisis centers that will be allowed to treat involuntary mental health patients under a new law.

A new law will allow Kansas crisis centers to treat involuntary mental health patients for up to 72 hours, but it isn’t clear if lawmakers will fund it.

Gov. Sam Brownback on Wednesday signed House Bill 2053, which allows crisis centers to treat people deemed a danger to themselves or others because of a mental health or substance use disorder. The bill had passed the House unanimously and passed the Senate 27-12 after some amendments. 

Lawmakers didn’t allocate funding for additional crisis center beds before they left for the Memorial Day weekend, although they have yet to finalize a budget.

Kansas currently has three crisis centers — in Kansas City, Wichita and Topeka — which only take patients who agree to treatment.

Credit Meg Wingerter / Kansas News Service
Kansas News Service
Bill Persinger, CEO of Valeo Behavioral Health Care in Topeka, said employees there are looking into changes that might be needed to serve involuntary patients.

Bill Persinger, CEO of Valeo Behavioral Health Care in Topeka, said employees there are looking into what changes might be needed to serve involuntary patients.

Valeo has a crisis center for voluntary patients that occasionally houses people waiting for a bed at Osawatomie State Hospital. He estimated the voluntary facility had reduced the number of Shawnee County residents sent to the state hospital by half.

“I think we’re going to have good capacity to provide services on a short-term involuntary basis,” he said.

Persinger said he hopes mental health centers can qualify for grants to prepare for involuntary patients. It could cost Valeo hundreds of thousands of dollars to have a prescriber available at all times, hire security staff, increase its mental health staff and renovate the building to offer more security and privacy, he said.

“It’s not something we can start doing tomorrow,” he said.

Marilyn Cook, CEO of Comcare in Wichita, said many mental health patients could avoid the state hospital or jail if more local treatment options were available, but the state needs to add funding for those programs. She estimated about half of the voluntary patients who use Comcare’s crisis center don’t have insurance.

“We would have to have medical staff there 24 hours, which is an expenditure, and we would have to have some funds for medication for people who are uninsured,” she said. “We have a sustainability problem right now.”

Cook and Persinger said they hope the Legislature will pass a bill that would give some funds from lottery ticket vending machines to crisis centers, but they don’t expect it would generate enough to cover all their costs.  

A similar bill considered in 2016 to allow involuntary treatment raised concerns about violating the rights of people with mental illnesses.  A committee of mental health advocates, treatment providers, law enforcement officers and others met between the sessions to come up with a compromise to provide treatment while protecting individuals’ rights. 

Cook said allowing crisis centers to treat involuntary patients has been shown to reduce hospitalizations in other states. Patients who come to Comcare voluntarily often calm down within a few hours because they are in a quiet environment with staff available to help, she said.

“I know it can work because it works now,” she said.

Meg Wingerter is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and KMUW covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @MegWingerter. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.

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