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Kansas Not Renewing Grants To Five Mental Health Advocacy Groups

The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services recently announced that it will not renew its grants with five in-state organizations that advocate for emotionally disturbed children and people with mental illness, developmental disabilities or addiction issues.

The grants, totaling $518,000, end June 30.

Appearing last week before the House Social Services Budget Committee, KDADS Secretary Kari Bruffett said the department’s decision not to renew its grants with the five programs was driven by its desire to reconfigure them in ways meant to break down some of the “compartmentalization” that now separates some of its grantees.

KDADS, she said, has posted a formal request for information on its website , asking providers to suggest ways to improve the current network of services. New criteria, Bruffett said, should be developed by May 1, and the new grants should be awarded by June 30 with a Jan. 1, 2016, startup date.

Bruffett said current grantees are welcome to apply for the new grants.

Grantees notified last week that their current-year funding will not be renewed after June 30, their missions and their grant amounts:

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness-Kansas, advocates for adults and children living with a mental illness, $150,000.
  • Keys for Networking, advocates for families with children with serious emotional disorders, $150,000.
  • Kansas Family Partnership, administers several initiatives aimed at reducing drug and alcohol use among children, teens and families, $418,500.
  • Families Together, provides training and support for parents of children with physical and developmental disabilities, $243,894.
  • Self Advocate Coalition of Kansas, provides training programs designed to help people with developmental disabilities advocate for themselves, $97,000.

Bruffett said she hopes the restructuring will lead to some additional federal funding and availability of private donations.

In separate interviews, each of the program directors said their respective agencies would be forced to close or significantly reduce their services if they are not awarded one of the new grants.

“We are distressed by the prospects that after having been a reliable provider of support for the past 25 years, we may not be around to play that role after July 1,” said Rick Cagan, executive director of NAMI-Kansas.

Cagan has been outspoken in his criticism of the state’s mental health system.

“It has a lot of holes in it,” he said. “You need organizations like NAMI and Keys (for Networking) to plug those holes, to rescue families who find themselves in crisis when the system doesn’t function like it’s supposed to. These are people who’ve already tried their community mental health center, who’ve already tried the state hospital, and they’re still in crisis. That’s who calls us. They don’t call KDADS.”

Michelle Voth, executive director at Kansas Family Partnership, said she’s long been aware of KDADS’ desire to restructure the grants.

“They want there to be a better way for coordinating all of the services that are being provided,” she said. “And that’s something that all of us want as well.”

Voth said she intends to apply for one of the new grants.

“Our concern at this point is that none of us know what these grants are going to look like,” she said.

The request for information from providers was issued Feb. 1, and the request for grant proposals is scheduled to be distributed May 1.

“That’s a really quick turnaround,” Voth said.

Families Together Executive Director Connie Zienkewicz said she, too, will apply for one of the new grants but with reservations.

“My concern is that in the past, the grants we’ve been asked to apply for have always involved services that we were the only entity with the capacity to provide them,” she said. “The idea was for families to get the services they need from the people who were in the best position – and who had the most expertise – to provide them. That’s why we’ve all developed the way we have. We didn’t compete; we collaborated with one another.”

The new grants, she said, signal a change in direction.

“It appears they want all that expertise to be one organization,” Zienkewicz said.

The Senate Ways and Means Social Services Subcommittee last week was made aware of KDADS’ decision not to renew the grants.

“I can think of no better example of our being penny wise and pound foolish,” said Sen. Laura Kelly, a Democrat from Topeka. “We’re going to end up spending a whole lot more on the folks who’ve been taking advantage of the services of these groups than we are now.

“And these are groups that run on a shoestring and yet, over the years, have developed an incredibly wide reach,” she said.

Sen. Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican and chairman of the subcommittee, said the grants’ redesign may be inevitable.

“Everybody who’s in health care — or in education, for that matter — knows that everything, funding-wise, is moving to outcomes-based decisions,” Denning said. “When these grants get let out, they’re going to include outcome measurements. That’s the new world, that’s the direction that everything is headed.”

Denning said Bruffett had assured him that the new grants will lead to additional funding for whichever programs receive them.

Even so, Rep. Barbara Bollier, a Republican from Mission Hills, said she doesn’t believe that will happen.

“KDADS’ not renewing the grants, that’s all about cutting costs. That’s all it is,” Bollier said. “We’re not going to get to the end of the (legislative session) and find out that KDADS is going to put more money into these grants. That’s not going to happen because the money isn’t there.”

Dave Ranney is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.

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