Topeka Mental health advocates on Friday welcomed Gov. Sam Brownback's attention to mental health needs, but said his proposal to shift $10 million in funds must ensure that other services aren't left wanting.
"There are a lot of details to be worked out," said David Johnson, chief executive officer of Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center.
"There will be the challenge of how this money gets used, coupled with the challenge of how to make sure we are not dropping the ball someplace else," Johnson said.
On Thursday, Brownback announced an initiative that he said was aimed at providing $10 million to help treat the most at-risk and challenging populations.
“While many Kansans and their families currently live under the dark cloud of mental illness, my hope is that this new initiative will be the start of a brighter day," Brownback said.
House Democratic Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence applauded Brownback for directing attention to mental health services.
But Davis added he was concerned "whether we're simply robbing Peter to pay Paul."
Brownback's proposal would establish a regional system of services for those who need intensive mental health care.
He said he would also appoint a task force to evaluate the state's current mental health system and make recommendations.
Brownback said the task force would include experts in mental health, medicine and criminal justice.
State grants to the 27 community mental health centers, which provide care for 123,000 Kansans per year and are required to serve all patients regardless of their ability to pay, have been slashed in recent years.
"I think we have some catching up to do," Johnson said. "But even being able to have the conversation and elevate the subject is an improvement."
Brownback, like officials in many states, has acknowledged that his interest in mental health services increased after last month's elementary school shooting in Connecticut, which left 20 children and six adults dead at the hands of a gunman who reportedly had mental health problems.
"It took 20 little angels to get people's attention," Johnson said. "Now that people are paying attention to mental health needs, I'm convinced that what this $10 million will go for is good things."