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In Wichita, Brownback outlines plan to improve services for mentally ill Kansans

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, June 3, 2014, at 8:11 p.m.

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Gov. Sam Brownback on Tuesday hailed the mental health program at the Sedgwick County Jail as the type of integration of services for mentally ill people that he hopes to expand across the state.

Brownback toured the mental health pod at the jail and spoke to staff and inmates there, before holding a news conference detailing his plans to improve mental health treatment throughout Kansas.

Brownback plans to spend about $9.5 million in state funds to help coordinate mental-health care efforts of the corrections system, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Aging and Disability Services and other state agencies that have contact with people with mental illness.

“You just try to create a better system to where you’re handling the person while they’re in jail, getting them some mental health services, and then there’s no drop when they get out they’re handed right off to the next group,” Brownback said. “And so you (the person with mental illness) stay on medications, you stay in group therapy and you get a better result – much better result.”

Shawn Sullivan, the director of Aging and Disability Services who will take over next week as Brownback’s budget director, said the major line items the program will include:

• shifting $7 million from Temporary Aid to Needy Families to enhance mental-health treatment efforts.

• $1 million for infrastructure improvements for community mental-health centers.

• $500,000 to increase the capacity of residential substance-abuse treatment programs.

• $500,000 to analyze systems at the state level.

The bulk of that spending will be overseen by a “subcabinet” on mental health encompassing officials from seven state agencies.

Brownback complimented Sheriff Jeff Easter for operating the kind of program he wants to expand.

“Two thirds of our prison population in the state of Kansas either has a substance abuse issue, a mental health issue or both, and the sooner we can get quality treatment to them the better off they are and the better off we are,” Brownback said. “And that’s what I was delighted to see here, is getting that mental health treatment in a prison facility.

“This remains an incarceration facility, but they’re getting treatment earlier, doing a good handoff to the mental health community and that’s what we need so we can all be safer and they can get better.”

The spending is relatively small because it’s more for coordination of existing systems than for creating new ones, Brownback said.

“You’ve got this huge corrections system, very effective but it’s got a purpose,” he said. “You’ve got a substantial mental health system. And you’re trying to integrate these systems along with the welfare system in the state of Kansas and putting some resources into getting that integration together.

“My experience thus far has been you can really create a synergy because both have huge needs.”

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.

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