Announcement Date: March 15, 2018

On March 15th, 2018 the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas (ACMHCK), in partnership with the Behavioral Health + Economics Network (BHECON), held a legislative forum to explore critical mental health treatment gaps and identify policy solutions in Topeka, Kansas. Behavioral Health Stakeholders, Local Law Enforcement and State Legislators convened to share their insights on how to improve behavioral health outcomes for Kansans through innovative programs and priority-setting.

State hospitals in Kansas are overburdened, giving law enforcement few options for individuals who are experiencing crises. For law enforcement, the problem that remains is what happens when officers do not have a safe place to bring individuals in crisis or if there is no space available in the hospitals. Sheriff Jeff Easter stated that the coordination between law enforcement, hospitals and mental health to solve this problem must start by asking the question, “What would we do if we had no hospital beds or spaces in jail?”

Engagement between law enforcement and behavioral health providers is continuing to expand in Kansas. The most successful programs rely on strong relationships between police officers and community behavioral health clinics, according to Officer Shawn Kimble of the Topeka Police Department. Successful programs also include officer training—such as Crisis Intervention Training—with support from behavioral health clinicians. Topeka is moving toward having social workers available 24/7 to go out on calls in the field with police officers. Mike Garrett, CEO of Horizons Mental Health Center, shared that the Center able to focus on treatment in jails by splitting costs with their criminal justice partners and are ensuring adequate re-entry support to reduce recidivism. Now they want to focus upstream on diversion, so arrests can be avoided.

“Mental Health and Substance Use issues go hand in hand… If you’re not starting to engage in those conversations with key stakeholders, you need to.” – Sheriff Jeff Easter on the growing concerns of methamphetamine use in Kansas

Providers and stakeholders praised the integrated nature of the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs) model, which combines not only physical and mental health treatment, but addiction services as well. While CCBHCs are increasing their peer support and addiction workforce in other states, the same cannot be said about Kansas. “We need to engage creatively around co-occurring disorders,” stated Steven Denny, Kansas Association of Addiction Professionals. Sen. Vicki Schmidt echoed this need for more integrated care, calling for “collaborative practices and… understanding the difficulties [experienced by] clients across all disease states.”

Citing statistics related to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), a term most often used in the context of trauma-informed approaches, and the outcomes on incarceration rates, legislative panelists agreed that data should be driving decision-making. One population that is of particular concern are juveniles coming into contact with corrections, as data can be used to determine the risk of future criminal justice engagement based on certain ACEs and preventative measures can be taken to divert youth from detention. Kansas also needs to invest further in behavioral health services to adequately meet the mental health needs of children in foster care and to reduce future trauma.

“Of the 50% of those [in prison] who are evaluated and determined to have a substance use disorder, only 50% are actually treated while in prison. This defies logic.” Rep. Russ Jennings, Kansas State Legislature

Even with the release of the Mental Health Task Force Report to the Kansas Legislature, State Legislators still need support from behavioral health professionals to determine where, in the full continuum of behavioral health care, the most pressing gaps exist. While there are many recommendations to improve access to evidence-based mental health and addiction treatment, the State needs to prioritize specific actions for targeted investment and innovation.

The Kansas Association of Addiction Providers, the Kansas Association Chiefs of Police and Kansas Sheriffs’ Association joined ACMHCK and BHECON as partners in convening this event. BHECON activities are generously supported by Alkermes and Genoa.

A full listing of participants of the event include:

Moderator: Kyle Kessler, Executive Director, Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas

Behavioral Health Stakeholder Panel:

  • Kate Davidson, Assistant Vice President, Policy and Advocacy, National Council for Behavioral Health
  • Steven Denny, President, Kansas Association of Addiction Professionals
  • Sheriff Jeff Easter, Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office
  • Mike Garret, CEO, Horizons Mental Health Center
  • Officer Shawn Kimble, Topeka Police Department

Legislative Panel:

  • Senator Laura Kelly
  • Senator Carolyn McGuinn
  • Senator Vicki Schmidt
  • Representative Russ Jennings
  • Representative Brenda Landwehr
  • Representative Kathy Wolfe Moore