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Johnson County approves $1.9 million in grants to expand mental health services

Johnson County commissioners voted last week to accept federal, state and local grant money that will support 14 full-time positions.
Susan McSpadden/JCCC
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Among other things, grants will pay for an on-campus clinician at Johnson County Community College to help students with mental health challenges.

Grant money approved this month by the Johnson County Commission will go towards hiring at least 14 full-time staff positions for various mental health care and service needs throughout the county.

Mental health services in Johnson County got a big boost from grant money recently, making it possible for county commissioners to add more than 14 full time equivalent positions in a variety of capacities.

County commissioners voted earlier this month to accept more than $1.9 million in federal, state and local grant money to authorize adding jobs to such services as:

  • a program for formerly incarcerated people with mental health or substance abuse problems;
  • the transition to a national suicide prevention call number;
  • services for students at Johnson County Community College.

Since the jobs are grant funded, they would end when the grant expires unless some other funding is found. The positions require no additional county tax money.

The biggest additions come from the suicide prevention hotline, which will add 6.75 full time equivalents and the former inmate program, which would add 4.5.

In addition, the sheriff’s office would add a mental health co-responder, JCCC would get one on-campus clinical position and one person would be added to an Olathe classroom program to deter alcohol, tobacco and substance abuse among teens and young adults.

New suicide hotline number

A decision by the Federal Communications Commission in July 2020 sets up an easily remembered number, 9-8-8, for the national suicide prevention hotline. (Currently the national suicide prevention line is 1-800-273-TALK.)

By July 2022, the new, simpler number is expected to be up and running.

Any call coming from a 913 area code will be routed to the Johnson County mental health call center at the Mental Health Center’s Mission office, said Tanner Fortney, director of operations for the county’s mental health department.

That applies even if the person kept a 913 number but moved out of the area.

The one-time transition grant of $600,000 from the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services allows the mental health center to hire and train people to staff the hotline around the clock, seven days a week.

The mental health center received more than 43,000 crisis calls in 2020, an increase of about 10,000 from pre-pandemic times, according to county data. The number of completed suicides among the center’s clients was 10, down from 16 in 2019 and 22 in 2018.

Because this is an ongoing hotline, Fortney said the county may need to find funds to backfill those positions once the grant runs out.

Services for former inmates

The county would add 4.5 full-time equivalent employees to help recently incarcerated persons with mental health or substance abuse problems manage their re-entry to the community.

The idea, Fortney said, is to prevent return trips to jail, which is more likely if mental issues and substance abuse are involved.

The two-year grant of $927,513 from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration would be available with some restrictions to volunteers, he said.

About 200 potential participants are expected during the two years of the program, Fortney added.

People with mental health and substance abuse issues are disproportionately more likely to end up in jail again, and are also more likely to suffer from other health problems that can be made worse in jail, according to a staff document on the program.

The grant money goes for clinical support for these people, as well as direct aid that could include transportation, clothing, food and financial assistance.

Based on the $202-per-day cost of a jail stay, the county could save $557,762 during the grant period, Fortney said.

That’s less than the grant outlay, but he noted that the program is expected to have a lingering effect for its recipients in the years after that.

Clinician at JCCC

The county will use a $98,000 grant to pay for an on-campus clinician to help students at JCCC dealing with mental health issues.

That position would be 75% funded by the community college, with the other 25% coming from the county in the form of a grant from the Overland Park-based REACH Healthcare Foundation.

The county has been working to set up similar programs in other schools as the post-pandemic demand for mental health services has increased, Fortney said.

“The need for case management has been huge because so many are suffering from clinical depression,” he said.

Co-responder for sheriff’s office

A $186,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Policing Development Crisis Intervention Teams will go toward hiring another co-responder for the sheriff’s office.

The office already has one co-responder, and the program has been popular with law enforcement because it keeps people out of jails and emergency rooms who could better be served by other types of intervention, said Tom Dugan, director of finance for the sheriff’s office.

Co-responders are mental health professionals who accompany law enforcement on calls.

Last year the sheriff’s co-responder went on 106 calls and had 327 additional contacts, Dugan said. Still, the current co-responder is only on duty about a quarter of the hours in a week, according to staff documents.

The program has been popular in municipal police departments in Johnson County, as well.

Fortney estimated there are 18 co-responders working throughout the county, with another one expected soon for Olathe. He said the program returns about $2.50 for every dollar spent on it in savings to hospitals and the justice system, as well as the benefit to the person.

The grant is for two years.

Substance abuse prevention efforts in schools

Another $125,000 one-time grant from the Centers for Disease Control Drug Free Communities will add one employee to the Olathe Communities that Care Coalition.

The coalition is a group formed in 2008 that focuses on reducing alcohol and tobacco use among teens.

The coalition will add more community engagement with families to its work this year, Fortney said.

Roxie Hammill is a freelance journalist in Kansas City. Contact her at roxieham@gmail.com.
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