A Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services official said Thursday that the agency has identified 11 communities that appear to be referring inordinate numbers of patients to the state hospitals for mentally ill or have above-average numbers of inmates in the state’s correctional systems who are known to be mentally ill.
“We’ve been going out and meeting with people in those communities,” said KDADS Assistant Secretary Lea Taylor, addressing a statewide conference in Lawrence on law enforcement training and mental health crises.
The meetings, Taylor said, are meant to give leaders in those communities time to explore the possibility of applying for $425,000 in state-funded grants aimed at reducing the number of mentally ill adults ending up in jail, prison or the state-run hospitals in Larned or Osawatomie.
Taylor declined to identify the communities. KDADS, she said, will issue a formal request for grant proposals “in the next month or so.”
The application process, Taylor said, will be open to organizations — public and private, local and regional — throughout the state. A time frame for awarding the grants has not been decided.
The $425,000 is part of a $9.5 million mental health initiative announced by Gov. Sam Brownback in May.
KDADS on Tuesday unveiled its plan for spending $75,000 on training projects to help law enforcement officers respond to crisis calls involving the mentally ill.
KDADS, Taylor said, has been especially pleased with its conversion of Rainbow Mental Health Facility, a former 50-bed state hospital in Kansas City, to a privatized detox and crisis stabilization unit, and with the program’s success in reducing the numbers of Johnson and Wyandotte County patients being referred to Osawatomie State Hospital.
Since it opened in April, the new facility, now called Rainbow Services Inc., has diverted 262 would-be patients from area emergency rooms, 91 from Osawatomie State Hospital and 61 from jail, Taylor said.
“It seems to be working,” she said.
About 140 people — a mix of law enforcement officers, program directors and mental health advocates — attended the Kansas Crisis Intervention Training Summit, an annual event coordinated by the Kansas Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center, Kansas Sheriff’s Association, Kansas Department of Corrections and KDADS.
Steve McCorkill, a sergeant with the Shawnee Police Department and president of the Kansas Law Enforcement CIT Council, led morning and afternoon sessions on processes for building local partnerships among law enforcement officers, mental health providers, and mental health consumers and their families.
“If jail is the best crisis-response resource that’s available to you, that’s a bigger problem than a law enforcement problem; that’s a societal issue,” McCorkill said. “And the best way to address societal issues on the law enforcement level is at the grassroots. That’s what CIT does, it builds coalitions that come up with solutions.”
McCorkill also asked the group to understand:
- “Mental illness does not excuse criminal activity.”
- “Officer safety is still ‘Job No. 1.’ If the officer isn’t safe, then nobody is safe.”
- “The biggest problem we have to deal with is overcoming stigma — the stigma that comes with having a mental illness, the stigma that comes with being taken to jail.”
- “Seven percent of the calls we get directly involve a mentally ill person. If you’re in law enforcement, you know that’s a lot.”
- “CIT will not prevent bad things from happening, but it will give the responding officers more resources.”
Mark Potter, men’s basketball coach at Newman University for the past 17 years, also addressed the conference. He discussed overcoming the stigma that accompanied his diagnosis of depression nine years ago.
“If we have a broken arm, we go to the doctor and get it fixed,” he said. “If we have diabetes, we go to the doctor to get it fixed. But if we have a mental illness — if our brain is broken — we don’t tell anyone. We don’t get it fixed. Why is that?”