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Mental Health Community Mourns Death Of Longtime Advocate

Courtesy photo

David Wiebe, one of the best known advocates for people with mental illness in Kansas, died Monday in Fairway at age 76. He had cancer.

“If you step back and look at how, over the decades, Kansas’ mental health system was developed, created and formed to where it is now, you’ll see that he was one of the pioneers,” says Tim DeWeese, executive director at the Johnson County Mental Health Center.

“His service to both the mental health field and to mental health consumers was invaluable,” DeWeese says.

Wiebe served as executive director of the Johnson County Mental Health Center from 1985 to 2011. He also served as president of the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas from 1996 to 1998.

At the time of his death, Wiebe was president of the Kansas Mental Health Coalition.

From 1988 to 1990, he was an active member of then-Gov. Mike Hayden’s Task Force on Mental Health Reform.

“His mission in life was to bring the best services to people who suffered from mental illness,” says Howard Snyder, who served on the task force with Wiebe. “He succeeded in that.”

Snyder says Wiebe was instrumental in the group’s push to make mental health treatment available in community-based settings.

At the time, Snyder says, the University of Kansas “came out with some data that showed that 80 cents out of every dollar the state spent on mental health was being spent in the state hospitals. Only 20 cents was being spent on services in the community.”

“That’ll be David’s legacy: moving as many services as possible into communities all across the state,” he says.

Wiebe also championed in-state efforts to help law enforcement officers develop alternate responses for crisis situations involving people with mental illness, now known as Crisis Intervention Training, or CIT.

“When we started out, CIT was an idea,” says Steve McCorkill, a sergeant with the Shawnee Police Department and a 10-year member of the Kansas Law Enforcement CIT Council. “A lot of people didn’t have the vision. But David did; he got it. He was 100 percent supportive. He was committed to making it happen not only in Johnson County but all across the state of Kansas.”

At the onset of the initiative, McCorkill says, Kansas had “maybe a handful” of trained officers. Today, he says, there are close to 1,200.

“You have to understand, we started out with nothing,” McCorkill says. “David gave us really good guidance. He understood budgeting. He knew how to build something out of nothing.”

Born in Aberdeen, Idaho, Wiebe moved to Newton, Kansas, when he was 12 years old. He later graduated from Newton High School and Bethel College. He earned a master’s degree in social work at KU.

Wiebe is survived by his wife, Leslie; three children, and six grandchildren.

Services will be at 2 p.m. Friday at Rainbow Mennonite Church, 1444 Southwest Blvd., Kansas City, Kan.

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

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