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McPhersonSentinel - McPherson, KS
  • Mental health plan seems hollow in wake of past cuts

  • My grandmother always told me not to look a gift horse in the mouth.
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  • My grandmother always told me not to look a gift horse in the mouth.
    Gov. Brownback’s offer of $10 million for a new mental health program is laudable. However, I believe it is based on political motivations rather than wishes for true reform. Brownback and the legislature’s recent record on mental health funding has not been good.
    Funding to the state’s community mental health centers decreased from $50 million in 2005 to $37.8 million in 2013. Funding fell even below the $37.8 million level, but the state increased funding by more than $6.5 million last year.
    This $10 million will not even return funding to its 2005 level.
    Further legislative under funding has resulted in critical over crowding at Osawatomie, the state’s mental hospital.
    Community mental health centers are where much of the state’s preventative efforts occur.
    Having covered Prairie View, McPherson’s Community mental health center for more than six years, I have had repeated conversations with director Jessie Kaye, who has related that preventative programs have been cut because of severe state budget cuts. In addition, lack of funds mean fewer staff members and longer waits for services.
    The governor is proposing a $10 million mental health program to address mental health for targeted populations.
    Part of the initiative would provide funding to the community mental health centers that demonstrate they are focusing on evidence-based programs that target the populations identified by the governor's initiative.
    I feel the governor is trying to capitalize on a political hot-button issue in the wake of the Sandy Hook and other recent shooting.
    Further, I ask why the funds must be targeted. Why do the decisions on community mental health have to be made by bureaucrats in Topeka. Kansans have always steadfastly believed it is better to administrate and legislate from the local level.
    The governor should allocate the $10 million without restrictions to community mental health centers, which are on the ground dealing with clients with mental illness.
    A task force, such as the one the governor plans to name, is a good idea. However, the governor said in his announcement last week he planned to appoint members of the medical field, mental health field and the criminal justice field. On the panel are no mentally ill persons or family members of mentally ill persons. They must be a part of this discussion.
    What I would like this task force to really look at is the process by which a person with mental illness is committed for treatment.
    Had the Aurora shooter or the young man a Virginia Tech been referred for in-patient treatment before the problem became critical, those tragedies might have been prevented. Both shooters had histories of mental illness.
    Page 2 of 2 - Family members, friends or even a mental health professional may want to refer a person for in-patient treatment, but they have to prove the person is an immediate danger to his or herself or others.
    This leaves mental health professional between a rock and hard place. They want to provide treatment in the least restrictive environment possible, but they don’t want to get sued like Aurora shooter’s mental health professional for not committing someone who is dangerous.
    The vast majority of people who have mental illness will never be violent toward other people. Finding a balance between freedom and respect for people who have the unfortunate circumstance to have poor brain chemistry and protecting the public from those whose illness might lead them to kill is a hard go.
    I think we can do better. I think we can do better for all people who have mental illness issues in the state.
    Although I applaud the governor’s offer of $10 million, the fact 27 people had to die before mental health funding was addressed in this state leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
    Cristina Janney is the managing editor of The McPherson Sentinel. Contact her at cristina.janney@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her on Twitter @macsentinel.
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