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House Committee OKs Involuntary Hold Plan For Kansans In Mental Health Crisis

Meg Wingerter
Kansas News Service
A Kansas House committee recommended a bill that would allow treatment centers to detain Kansans in mental health crisis for up to three days. Mike Burgess of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas spoke Wednesday to the committee.

A bill that would allow treatment centers to detain Kansans in mental health crisis for up to three days moved forward Thursday after months of work to develop a compromise.

A similar bill proposed last year raised concerns that it would deprive Kansans with mental illnesses of their due process rights. A committee of law enforcement officers, treatment providers, mental health advocates and others met six times between legislative sessions to come up with a compromise bill that still fulfilled the original goal of providing short-term mental health care.

House Bill 2240, introduced this year, would require Kansas crisis centers to assess patients three times after they arrive: within four hours, before the first 24 hours ended and before the end of the second day. The center would have to file an affidavit in district court explaining why the patient needed a third day to stabilize. Patients who aren’t stable after 72 hours could be committed to a state hospital.

On Thursday afternoon, the House Judiciary Committee voted to recommend the House pass the bill.

Kansas has three crisis centers — in Kansas City, Wichita and Topeka — that receive most of their funding from the state. Current law allows the centers to stabilize patients who enter voluntarily but not to hold patients against their will.

Mike Burgess, director of policy and outreach for the Disability Rights Center of Kansas, told the committee on Wednesday that the court review should happen sooner after a person is detained and that the Legislature should require crisis centers to submit data about their work. Still, he said the bill is a vast improvement from the one introduced last session.

“To say I was opposed would not do it justice,” he said. “Now, I return as a supporter.”

Not everyone thinks the due process protection goes far enough in the revised bill. The Kansas Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers requested that patients be present in court when a judge considers holding them for a third day.

“This is not meaningful due process,” the group’s written testimony said.

Ed Klumpp, who lobbies on behalf of law enforcement agencies, told the committee that officers often have to sit with people in mental health crisis while they wait for a bed at Osawatomie State Hospital to open. The hospital has been running at a reduced capacity for nearly two years, he said.

Allowing crisis centers to hold patients for 72 hours will help reduce demand for beds at the state psychiatric hospitals, he said.

“We’re in a dire situation,” he said. “There’s very few resources other than the state hospital that can take involuntary patients.”

Crisis centers could give patients medications against their will but would have to explain the medication and its side effects first. The bill also includes limits on restraining or isolating patients.

Rick Cagan, executive director of the Kansas chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said stabilizing people involuntarily in crisis centers will be an important option. But he said that should be a “last resort” if treatment in a less-restrictive setting wouldn’t be safe.

Cagan also raised concerns that funding for the crisis centers would come from elsewhere in the mental health system. The bill doesn’t specify how the state would fund the centers.

Only one member of the committee, Rep. John Whitmer, voted against recommending the bill. Whitmer, a Republican from Wichita, said the Legislature shouldn’t pass a bill that might require significant spending because of the state’s budget gap.

“Do we need more fiscal notes?” he asked. “I don’t think it’s responsible.”

Rep. Russ Jennings, a Republican from Lakin, said he also believes in watching expenditures closely, but noted that treating people with mental illnesses is a state responsibility. He described the waiting list for a bed at Osawatomie State Hospital as “appalling.”

“Since our state hospital system is inadequate, there must be something to take its place,” he said. “Good God, there are some things state government has to do.”

Meg Wingerter is a reporter for KCUR’s Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and KMUW covering health, education and politics in Kansas. 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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