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Grant Restructuring Concerns Kansas Mental Health Agencies

Organizations that advocate on behalf of Kansas adults and children with mental illnesses are asking legislators to adopt a proviso that would protect their budgets for at least another year.

“We are having those conversations now,” said Rick Cagan, executive director with the Kansas chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The conversations, he said, are on behalf of NAMI and Keys for Networking, a program that counsels families with children with severe emotional disturbances.

The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services last month announced that it would not be renewing its grants with NAMI, Keys for Networking and three other programs after June 30.

Instead, KDADS will rewrite the criteria for the grants in ways meant to better coordinate efforts to promote mental health and substance abuse treatment, reduce problem gambling and prevent suicide.

“We have different needs now than we did, say, six or seven years ago,” Angela de Rocha, a KDADS spokesperson, said Monday.

The five programs, she said, will be welcome to apply for the new grants, which will be awarded in mid- to late June and will take effect July 1.

“It’s not that we’re cancelling their grants, it’s that we’re changing the way we’re doing it,” de Rocha said. “They can get the new grants unless they don’t want to bid on them.”

The five programs and their grant amounts for the current fiscal year:

  • NAMI, $150,000.
  • Keys for Networking, $150,000.
  • Kansas Family Partnership, a program that oversees several initiatives aimed at reducing drug and alcohol use among children, teens and families, $418,500.
  • Families Together, an organization that provides training and support for parents of children with physical and developmental disabilities, $243,894.
  • Self Advocate Coalition of Kansas, a training program that helps people with developmental disabilities advocate for themselves, $97,000.

KDADS, de Rocha said, expects to release its criteria for the new grants no later than April 16.

She said the department also hopes the grant restructuring can be done in a way that will draw down additional federal funding and, perhaps, private donations. But at this point there are no guarantees, she said, because the request for proposal (RFP) has yet to be written.

For programs like NAMI and Keys for Networking, Cagan said, the uncertainty is troubling. “We don’t know where this is going,” he said. “It’s a little bit of a mystery.”

But if NAMI is not awarded one of the new grants, Cagan said he expects the organization “will go away. We will close our doors.”

The state, he said, should not run that risk.

“Both NAMI and Keys for Networking are essential in terms of rescuing families and individuals who find themselves caught up in a system that, for them, is inadequately resourced and difficult to navigate,” Cagan said. “The people we deal with on a daily basis are in crisis. For whatever reason, the system isn’t working for them.”

Mary Ellen Conlee, head of the Keys for Networking governing board, said recent conversations with KDADS officials have been “very positive” but inconclusive.

“It’s clear that the services Keys has been providing for the past 25 years are valued by the Legislature and by KDADS,” Conlee said. “But it’s also clear that the department is wanting to take things in a different direction. But until there’s an RFP, it’s hard to know what that direction is going to be.”

If Keys for Network were to lose its grant, it likely would have to cut services and assist fewer families, Conlee said. “Our grant is 40 percent of our budget,” she said. “So it would be difficult.”

Sen. Jim Denning, a Republican from Overland Park, on Monday said he’d begun the process for introducing a proviso — separate from NAMI and the other groups are seeking — that would ensure “a 30-day (funding) window” between when the new grants are awarded and their respective startup dates.

“I’m saying that whoever gets a grant should have at least 30 days to coordinate, and whoever doesn’t get one of the grants should have 30 days to adjust,” Denning said. “I don’t want there to be a short fuse.”

He said he was confident that KDADS’ sole intent with the new grant criteria is to better coordinate services within the state’s mental health system, and that NAMI and Keys for Networking will submit worthy grant applications.

On Thursday, more than 400 mental health advocates are expected at the Statehouse as part of Mental Health Advocacy Day, a Topeka event coordinated by the Kansas Mental Health Coalition. NAMI and Keys for Networking are active members of the coalition.

KDADS Secretary Kari Bruffett is scheduled to address the group at 9:45 a.m. at the Ramada Inn ballroom, 420 SE Sixth.

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

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