Politics & Government

Mental-health department Comcare wants to form a nonprofit

Comcare Community Crisis Center at 635 N. Main. (Dec. 28, 2015)
Comcare Community Crisis Center at 635 N. Main. (Dec. 28, 2015) File photo

Comcare wants the county to create a nonprofit to raise money, seek advice from the private sector and increase public awareness of services offered by the county-run mental health department.

Commissioners would have to approve the idea proposal.

Comcare “has a deep, deep impact in the health of our community, but it’s done that so quietly over the last fifty years,” said developer Jason Van Sickle, who would be the nonprofit’s initial chairman. “People should know what Comcare does for our community.”

Van Sickle said he would “work with Comcare staff in a public-private partnership … that would make Comcare not only solvent going into the future but actually better and stronger.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to bring in expertise for free through the passion of board members,” he said. “I see this as Comcare really being part of a national trend where public-private partnerships are the way that you help provide social services.”

The proposal comes after county discussions about privatizing some or all of Comcare’s mental crisis and substance abuse services.

Last year, the county released a draft of a request for proposals from the private sector to take over Comcare services.

“The understanding would be, with this announcement, privatization would not move forward in the immediate future,” said Comcare executive director Marilyn Cook. “I’m thrilled that we can move forward now and focus on the provision of services and also on our sustainability.”

Chairman Jim Howell said the draft request for proposals regarding privatization is on hold.

“There’s been no decision to go forward or to suspend,” he said.

‘A safe landing spot’

The question of privatization surfaced last year. Some commissioners thought the private sector could offer better or cheaper services. They said the draft request was a good way to take stock of how Comcare operated.

“The (request for proposal) simply creates an opportunity for us to judge ourselves and to challenge ourselves to doing more,” Howell said.

Commissioners Dave Unruh and Tim Norton oppose privatization, saying Comcare already provides quality mental health services. Top law enforcement officials in the county have said they worry about how their offices would be affected.

“Because I see great danger in full privatization of Comcare, I see this as a safe landing spot where we can have some private involvement,” Unruh said. “I don’t see this as a baby step toward privatization.”

Cook said the nonprofit proposal was the Comcare’s “internal response” to the privatization discussions

“It will also allow us to continue to focus on things that we need to be doing, rather than dividing our energies and our time with any transition to another governance structure,” Cook said.

‘More public involvement’

Van Sickle, president of the Old Town Association, is on the board of directors of the Wichita Downtown Development Corp. and is involved with other nonprofits.

He said he hopes they can form a board of directors and file paperwork for nonprofit status in the next month or two.

Comcare “could benefit some of the things that nonprofits qualify for, including becoming involved in things like volunteers … and doing fundraising,” Van Sickle said.

Van Sickle said the proposal was well-received by all commissioners in recent discussions.

“It met the criteria they were looking for, which is more public involvement, more transparency, more efficiencies,” he said.

A nonprofit would include people from the business community to give input about how Comcare is run. Commissioners would have the final say on changes to the organization.

County Health and Human Services director Tim Kaufman said the fundraising would serve as additional revenue on top of state and federal grants. He said the proposal will keep Comcare as a county organization but with “less dependence on tax revenue.”