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Archive for Saturday, February 23, 2008

Mental health advocates say funding needed to treat inmates

February 23, 2008

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— Mental health advocates Friday pleaded for funding to provide more state hospital room for mentally ill Kansans who can't get help or are currently held in county jails.

"We are truly at a point of crisis in the state hospital system," said David Wiebe, executive director of the Johnson County Mental Health Center.

Kenneth Massey, Douglas County undersheriff, said 60 inmates in the Douglas County Correctional Facility are mentally ill. That equals 40 percent of the prison population.

"We manage them the best we can," Massey said, but added, "there is very little treatment going on."

The comments came during a meeting of the Senate budget subcommittee that is considering appropriations for the state's three mental health hospitals.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' proposed budget is approximately $1.8 million less than what was requested by the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services to take care of building and staffing needs at the hospitals. SRS also has proposed an additional $2.8 million to increase staff to take care of inmates in county jails awaiting admission to the state hospitals, officials said.

More than 1,400 people with serious mental illness are housed in state prisons and county jails, which is four times the number of beds in the state mental health hospital system, said Rick Cagan, executive director of the Kansas chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The three state mental health hospitals are Osawatomie State Hospital, Larned State Hospital and Rainbow Mental Health Facility in Kansas City, Kan.

The hospitals receive people who are experiencing severe symptoms of mental illness. Admissions to the three hospitals have increased from 2,199 in 2002 to more than 3,600 currently, with the largest increases at Osawatomie and Larned.

The patients sent to the hospitals are becoming increasingly violent and medically needy, SRS officials said. And at the same time, there has been a decrease in private psychiatric hospital beds in the state.

The overcrowded conditions mean many people are unable to get treatment.

Annette Wingerson of Smith Center said her family tried desperately to get help for her brother Steven Reitcheck, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, before he shot and killed Sheridan County Sheriff James Johnson in Hoxie in 2006. Reitcheck was then killed by a sheriff's deputy in the incident.

"The tragedy in Hoxie was as if a tornado was coming, but no one would heed the warning," Wingerson said.

State Sen. Dwayne Umbarger, R-Thayer and chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said, "It's obvious we have a real challenge before us."

He said the priority will be in funding "promises made last year," such as staffing a renovated unit at Osawatomie State Hospital.

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