Archive for Friday, December 23, 2016

Your Turn: We can do much better on mental health

December 23, 2016


When a person living in Lawrence experiences a heart attack, a stroke, or a car wreck that leaves the person in critical condition, we call 911, the ambulance arrives and takes the person to the emergency department at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. The emergency department’s staff provides prompt and excellent treatment to keep the person alive.

If needed, the injured is passed on to a doctor who specializes in treating the injury or condition. If needed, the patient stays in the hospital until well enough to be released. If physical therapy is needed, the patient is connected with a physical therapist and receives that care.

How does this compare with the care provided to someone who’s experiencing a mental health crisis?

If it is during normal business hours, Monday through Friday, the person can visit our Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. Bert Nash also has a phone number that can be called anytime, day or night.

But what if the crisis affects a person who’s living alone and unable to help himself or herself? Or someone whose illness is so severe that his or her loved ones can’t intervene? We call 911 and the police department is sent to help. They do their best, but they may have to use force to take the person in crisis to a safe environment. They have two choices: LMH emergency department or the Douglas County Jail. Neither facility is staffed with doctors trained to treat people who find themselves in mental health crises.

If your loved one had a car accident and were in critical condition, would you be content to have police take that person to a holding room until that person could be moved — hours or days later — to another community that had staff and resources to deal with the injuries?

Lawrence is truly blessed to have a Top 100 Hospital for the past four years running. LMH provides excellent care for our physical healing. And I thank God every day that we have a top-notch community mental health center. But we can do better.

The proposed Mental Health Crisis Center would meet this challenge. It would basically be an emergency department for mental illness emergencies, just like the LMH emergency department is for physical emergencies. It would be available 24/7 with trained staff and doctors.

In San Antonio, they call their crisis center a “Restoration Center.” It provides restoration services to both those with mental and/or substance abuse health issues. It has lowered the number of people in their emergency departments and jails.

To finance the Restoration Center, the hospitals, police departments, courts, county, city, and mental health center all collaborated, pooling the money they saved by reducing demand. These monies, in turn, are used to offset the center’s operational costs.

In Lawrence, if we can find $18 million to remodel a library that has since received national recognition for the architectural design, $25 million for the Rock Chalk Park, and have a nationally recognized, community-owned hospital, what is holding us back from a Mental Health Crisis Center?

Is it because we have to wait until we can include the proposed jail expansion with the crisis center in a combined public vote? If LMH builds a new addition to the hospital, it is done on its own merits. Why can’t the Mental Health Crisis Center and the jail expansion each stand on its own merits?

Lawrence, we can do better than this.

— Bill Wood is the chair of the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Douglas County Leadership Team.


Rick Cagan 1 year, 4 months ago

Well stated Bill. It's time for Douglas County to treat individuals experiencing a mental health crisis with the right treatment at the right time and to create opportunities for recovery. Our current system too often further traumatizes individuals. We can and must treat mental illnesses like any other illness. The development of competent crisis services will be a positive step in that direction.

Rick Cagan

Eric Fischer 1 year, 3 months ago

The brick & mortar solution is easy (but expensive) while the public rarely learns of alternative, highly effective community-based approaches. The best way to de-criminalize mental illness (& save$) is to quit using police as mental health workers. Many PD's have specialized "co-responder teams" comprised of a great cop paired with an embedded mental health professional. . It saves money & creates better outcomes by getting mental health professionals on-scene to enable a LE response to evolve into a community-based healthcare response. These teams are becoming the national model in England because they prevent unnecessary transfers, prevent trauma, and help consumers get out of cyclic contact with police. These teams can then coordinate with county mobile crisis and ACT teams for even more follow-up. Collaboration and community-based treatment are winners. But, collaboration is hard. A Drop-off center can be an improvement in the status quo - especially true for cities dealing with huge homeless populations (e.g. San Antonio). Co-Responder teams, on the other hand, are the relatively cheap, game-changing reform that doesn't get the press, but taxpayers should demand.

Bill Wood 1 year, 3 months ago


Thanks for your great comments. You suggestion for co-responder teams will be implemented by the Lawrence Police Department in 2017. I am on the Crisis Intervention Training planning committee and Police Chief Khatib has approval from the City to create a co-responder team in 2017. The CIT planning committee has received reports that some of the CIT trained officers who have been able to deescalate some mental health crisis situations that prevented them having to pick up and transport the individuals to the jail or emergency room. Our investment in CiT training is already having a positive effect on our our care for the mentally ill. In some cases even a co-responder team will need to assist the person in crisis by taking them to get help. If we have a Crisis Center with trained staff, the co-responder team may decide that is the best place for the person in crisis. The co-repsonder team will have another option besides the hospital emergency room and the jail. A Crisis Center is not the total cure, just as the Hospital emergency department is not the total cure for people who have been in a car wreck or had a heart attack. You are spot on about the need for collaboration in solving problems. We had a Mental Health Consortium with 60 people involved in mental health working together on a complete continuum of care for mental heath care in our community, but it is in need of some re-energizing.

Richard Heckler 1 year, 3 months ago

Let's implement a 15 year moratorium on what we call "tax incentives" and use the tax dollars collected for the next 15 years to build an appropriate care center.

Lawrence does not need more apartments,a new nonsense lake resort or another slow moving business park. We do need an appropriate care center for our citizens dealing with mental health challenges.

How many developers,builders and such are delinquent tax offenders? Let's round up that money pronto to initiate the construction of a desperately needed health facility!

Carol Bowen 1 year, 3 months ago

We seldom talk about tha family's financial burden or the family's future when a loved one is dealing with a mental illness. Because of the lack of services that would allow adults the ability to live independently, the family provides the financial as well as emotional support. There's no future for the family as it gets older. Who will take care of the loved one with a mental illness when the family is too old to provide the support?

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