LMH to support voter efforts on mental health sales tax question, but some question fairness

photo by: Lawrence Memorial Hospital

This draft flyer presents information about an upcoming ballot question that would create quarter-cent countywide sales tax to fund additional mental health services. The flyer, which was included with the agenda for a Lawrence Memorial Hospital board of trustees meeting, is being produced by Douglas County, the Health Department, Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, DCCCA and several other health care groups

The upcoming ballot issue to create a quarter-cent countywide sales tax to fund additional mental health services will get a boost from Lawrence Memorial Hospital, although not without some criticism.

The hospital’s board of trustees on Monday evening agreed to allow the LMH Health logo to be part of an informational flyer about the sales tax proposal, which voters will decide as part of the Nov. 6 election.

The board narrowly approved participation in the flyer — which is being produced by Douglas County, the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, DCCCA and several other health care groups — over the objections of trustee Bob Moody.

Moody said he thought the portion of the informational flyer that addressed the sales tax part of the proposal was one-sided. He noted the flyer didn’t make any mention of the impact that sales taxes have on lower-income populations or the fact that Kansas applies sales taxes to basic necessities, such as food.

“You have to have both sides of the issue if this is really going to be an informative piece,” Moody said.

Douglas County officials faced that criticism as part of the last ballot initiative they proposed, which was a half-cent sales tax that would have funded mental health and an expansion of the Douglas County Jail. As a government entity, Douglas County can’t put out information that expressly advocates for passage of a ballot issue. Instead, it only can publish informational or educational pieces about ballot issues. During the controversial half-cent sales tax proposal, which was defeated by voters, the county was accused of having informational brochures that were too one-sided.

LMH trustee Cindy Yulich said she did wish this new brochure had some additional information, such as how the sales tax likely would affect residents. But she supported moving ahead with LMH’s endorsement of the brochure.

The board voted to support the effort after LMH President and CEO Russ Johnson told the board that he was strongly in favor of advocating for the mental health ballot issue.

“Every community in this country is struggling with mental health and addiction,” Johnson said. “It is not going to be solved with state or federal issues. It is going to be solved community by community and with local funding.”

Originally, the LMH board voted to not participate in the brochure as crafted. Because there were several board absences, five of the six present members needed to approve the brochure for it to move forward. Originally, Moody and new board member Jim Brooke voted against the measure. But Brooke ultimately changed his mind after reading the brochure during the meeting and called for the vote to be reopened, at which point the measure passed with only Moody voting against.

A hospital spokeswoman said she was unsure of how the four-page brochure was going to be distributed to voters or who was going to pay for it. In the last election, the county oversaw the mailing of a brochure to essentially every household in the county. Advance voting already has begun for the issue.

Just prior to taking the vote on the brochure, the hospital did pass a new set of guidelines on how LMH should be involved in issues of advocacy. The guidelines create several standards for the board to consider when asked to be an advocate on an issue: The issue should be health care related; the board should not advocate for individual candidates, only issues; and the issue should not be “highly politically divisive.”



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