Kevin Dohrer was 19 when doctors diagnosed him with schizoaffective disorder.
“My worst fear was not ever being able to become independent and that I’d be institutionalized,” Dohrer told Sedgwick County commissioners Wednesday, speaking on behalf of the Breakthrough Club.
Now 25, he has a job and an apartment and drives a vehicle.
Breakthrough Club, a social and vocational program of Episcopal Social Services that serves people with mental illnesses, has been a big reason for his success, he said.
“Since becoming a member in 2007, my life has changed for the best,” Dohrer said.
Commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday morning to give Breakthrough Club a $137,500 grant from their contingency fund. Since losing access to Medicaid dollars in 2010, the Breakthrough Club has received a $275,000 annual grant from Sedgwick County. Comcare, the county’s mental health agency, recently informed the club that it would not receive funding next year.
A room full of club members and supporters lobbied commissioners for help and clapped during the meeting after board chairman Jim Skelton moved to give the club half of its grant.
Without help from the county, Breakthrough Club leaders said, the nonprofit would have to close. Dohrer said the club is important for people who struggle with mental illness because it’s one place “where we feel wanted and treated as equals.”
Denise Hinson, president of the board of Episcopal Social Services, said Breakthrough Club serves 322 people a year who suffer from severe and persistent mental illness.
She said Breakthrough Club, which is operated by members, is “essential to the well-being and success” of people such as Dohrer.
“We all agree that the clinical aspect of mental health treatment is very important,” Hinson said.
But education, vocational training and social rehabilitation are “equally important,” she said, noting that Breakthrough Club helps get people in college and in jobs. She said 12 members are attending college this year, and five are expected to graduate by the end of the year.
“We witness the success of rehabilitation every day in the work that we do,” she said. “You can’t fund only the clinical aspect to make the mental health system work.”
In the past five years, Breakthrough Club’s funding has decreased by 87 percent, and the nonprofit has reduced its reserves by 62 percent, she said.
Funding on the front end prevents community expenses on the back end, she said.
“Breakthrough Club keeps people out of jail, out of the hospital and off the streets,” Hinson said.
Commissioners said they understood that Breakthrough Club helps people, but they also emphasized that the county has seen its own checkbook shrink.
Commissioner Tim Norton noted that county leaders have been forced to make hard decisions about how to spend taxpayer dollars.
Commissioner Dave Unruh said the board’s expectation is that Breakthrough Club will use the grant judiciously and work to become self-sufficient financially.
Comcare didn’t decide to take away the funding lightly, Sedgwick County Manager William Buchanan told The Eagle in an earlier story.
He said the Breakthrough Club lost its Medicaid support after billing for services that weren’t eligible for reimbursement. Breakthrough Club leaders say they weren’t billing for ineligible services but ran into problems with documentation.
Barbara Andres, executive director of Breakthrough Club, said the commission’s grant will help the nonprofit look for other sources of money.
“This gives us some time for us to figure out what to do,” she said after the meeting. “I always like to work together to make a win win, especially for the people that we serve. So I think this is a step in that direction.”