New, planned mental health services discussed

New, planned mental health services discussed

Like most states, Kansas doesn’t have enough mental health resources – both in facilities and providers, a problem exacerbated by growing numbers of residents experiencing mental health crises. But state, county, city and private providers in Kansas have been working to address this shortage and to improve services.

The Medical Society of Sedgwick County on Feb. 6 hosted a panel of state and local providers who talked about what they are working on to expand mental health services in our area. The panelists were Scott Brunner, deputy secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services; Abbey Cotter, director of behavioral health at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph Hospital; Joan Tammany, executive director of COMCARE; and Cassie Karlsson, MD, director of the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita’s new Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship.

Brunner, who works directly with the four state hospitals that serve people with mental illness and intellectual and developmental disabilities, talked about the new state hospital that will regionalize care in Sedgwick County. The new hospital will serve south-central Kansas and be located in southwest Wichita at the corner of MacArthur Road and Meridian Avenue, part of the OneRise Health Campus.

“We’re working on fitting the building design into that site,” Brunner said. The project has about 16 weeks of intensive design work. Then officials hope to request RFPs for construction in the fall and break ground late this year or in early 2025.

Meanwhile, Ascension Via Christi, which houses 101 inpatient psychiatric beds at its St. Joseph campus, is working to expand its Emergency Department from 29 beds to 49 beds, mostly to help ease the crush of its behavioral health population that comes in through the emergency room.

The Ascension Via Christi Behavioral Health Center operates at about 98% capacity most of the time, with emergency departments overflowing with patients needing mental health services, Cotter said.

“The average wait time in the ER for an inpatient bed was almost two days last month,” she said. “The ED expansion project … hopefully will really help us support our behavioral health population better.”

COMCARE, Sedgwick County’s Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic and licensed Community Mental Health Center, announced that it recently closed on property next to the planned WSU/KUSM-W Biomedical Campus that will house a new crisis center. The center is designed for anyone experiencing an emotional or substance abuse disorder crisis. The new location will replace the current site, which was not originally designed to properly house a crisis center, Tammany said.

“The new facility is intended to be designed … with better waiting space when people come in, better meeting rooms for family members and loved ones (and) more space for our mobile teams to come in and consult,” she said. “It will be a more pleasant and inviting experience for people.”

COMCARE also is working closely with law enforcement and 911 to build internal capacity for mobile response to mental health calls so that, in some situations, mobile units of mental health professionals can respond to check on the welfare of an individual rather than sending law enforcement. COMCARE has four new teams in place in a partnership with the Wichita Police Department to assist on mental health calls.

And the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita is doing its share to train more child psychiatrists to help address the tremendous shortage of these much-needed professionals nationwide. Its newly established Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship already has three fellows in it with two more fellows matched for the coming year, Karlsson said.

Officials estimate Kansas needs about 400 child psychiatrists to address the needs around the state, she said. But 69 is all the state has – and not all of them practice child psychiatry. In addition, the majority of them live in the Kansas City area. That leaves 12 child psychiatrists for the rest of the state.

“This is a really big deal to have five child psychiatry fellows,” Karlsson said. “Because this is the most underserved specialty in all of medicine.”

Cassie Karlsson, MD, director of KUSM-W’s child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship program; Scott Brunner, deputy secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services; Abbey Cotter, director of behavioral health at Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph Hospital; panel moderator Sheldon Preskorn, MD; and Joan Tammany, executive director of COMCARE.