Published in the Iola Register on May. 3, 2013.

Letter to the Editor 5-3-13

Dear Editor,
 May is National Mental Health Month. Pawnee Mental Health Services has provided community mental health services to individuals in ten counties in north central Kansas for more than 56 years.
 The issue of mental health has recently received increased attention due to widely publicized events, most recently the Dec. 14, 2012 tragedy where Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother in their home, then shot and killed 20 children and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, before killing himself.
 In the months that have followed, The Mental Health First Aid Act (S. 153/H.R. 274) was introduced in Congress and would authorize $20 million to support public education and training on how to respond to individuals experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis.
 Mental Health First Aid is a public education program that helps people identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. Pawnee Mental Health Services has trained 466 people in Mental Health First Aid since May, 2011. For more information on a class near you, please contact mary.heath@pawnee.org.
 Another response of Congress includes The Excellence in Mental Health Act (S.2257) which would create Federally Qualified Behavioral Health Centers (FQBHCs.) The Act would establish national standards and oversight for FQBHCs. Proponents say FQBHCs  will reduce costs to taxpayers through integrated care strategies that prevent the development of costly health problems and disease complications. This is the same premise upon which the Governor’s KanCare Medicaid program is based.
 Individuals with diabetes and serious mental illness covered by the KanCare Medicaid program are scheduled to be assigned to “health homes” by January 1, 2014. The health home model will move the Kansas Medicaid program from a fee-for-service based model, where providers are paid based on how many units of service they provide, to an outcomes based model, where providers are paid based on the health outcomes (results) in their member population.
 A response of the Governor to the Newtown tragedy is the Governor’s Mental Health Initiative which allocates $10 million to the Kansas Community Mental Health System for the creation of five regional recovery support centers which would provide intensive services to some of the state’s most difficult to treat individuals. This is not new money. The Family Centered System of Care (FCSC) program ($4.75 million) will not be funded in FY2014 and $5 million will be cut from Mental Health Reform funding.
 FCSC funding provides mental health services for over 6,300 children annually in Kansas with serious emotional disturbances (SED) and their families. Mental Health Reform funding provides community mental health services for individuals who might otherwise require treatment in the state psychiatric hospitals. State Mental Health Reform funding has already been cut by 50% or $15 million since FY2008.
 We appear to be experiencing elevated levels of mental health distress in our society. It can be debated whether this is an objective reality or the result of increased media coverage. There does, fortunately, seem to be increased awareness of the issue and its impact on the individual, the family and the community, at both the state and national level. There may even be elementary consensus on how to respond.
 There are new initiatives. Sometimes these initiatives complement each other, sometimes they don't. Sometimes these initiatives address the issue of stigma, sometimes they don't. Sometimes these initiatives possess the potential for real change, sometimes they don't. No doubt, any effective change effort will be complex, will require vision and courage from its leaders and the cooperation of multiple stakeholders.
 Please contact your U.S. Senator and Representative and urge them to support the Mental Health First Aid Act and the Excellence in Mental Health Act. Please contact your Kansas Senator and Representative and urge them to support the $10 million in funding to the Kansas community mental health centers which is contained in the Governor's Mental Health Initiative.

Robbin Cole, Executive Director
Pawnee Mental Health Services
Manhattan