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State cutbacks could hamper SW Guidance Center programs PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 02 February 2011 13:56

• Leader & Times
When Kansas Governor Sam Brownback unveiled  his proposed budget for the state last month, government-funded entities across Kansas braced for a shock. With a projected shortfall of more than $500 million in fiscal year 2012, the Kansas budget would have to cut costs everywhere to balance. 
But when Southwest Guidance Center Director Jim Karlan saw the final numbers, the situation for his agency was even worse than he anticipated —  more like amputation than trimming excess here and there. 
Karlan already knew that “the community mental health system in Kansas is in deep financial trouble,” he said. But when the 2012 budget was unveiled, “I was dumbfounded. The governor’s budget wiped out the state aid money line item, all $10.2 million of it.” 
If legislators don’t tweak the proposed budget to allow for community mental health funding, SWGC will lose more than $110,000. That’s a hefty chunk of the center’s operating base and bad news for clients in the four-county area served. 
An invisible resource
Community mental health services are a lot like electricity, Karlan said. 
“Everyone takes it for granted that it’s there. You don’t think about whether or not the power is on when you walk in a room; you just flip the switch. When the system is succeeding, no one notices,” he said. 
But when a family member encounters life-crushing circumstances, or mental illness suddenly manifests itself, the services at Southwest Guidance Center make the difference between the darkness of despair, and a ray of hope. 
“When you have power outages,” Karlan pointed out, “everyone knows exactly how important it is to have electricity available.”
Since Southwest Kansas implemented mental health reform measures in 1993, Southwest Guidance Center has served four counties in the area — Seward, Haskell, Meade and Stevens. The center had operated in Liberal since 1963, but broadened its service area in 1993. 
“The idea was that centers like ours would create a system of care in their respective communities,” Karlan said. The plan focused on early intervention and prevention of mental illness. It also provided emergency support services for individuals and families in crisis. 
“One of the system’s goals was to reduce the number of psychiatric hospitalizations, so that people weren’t ending up in Larned State Hospital for long periods of time,” Karlan said. “We’ve kept people out of the state hospital. They might go in for a short time. But the person doesn’t get lost in the shuffle and the times in years past when a person might spend literally 10 years lying in bed in the grip of mental illness — that’s not happening like it used to.”
Such a dramatic change requires skillful intervention and follow-up care through case management.
But timing is key, and the “State Aid” fund that’s on the line for elimination is the financing source for the crisis and emergency services SWGC provides around the clock for the four-county area. 
“When someone ends up in police custody, or at one of the area hospitals in need of mental health care, we are the official screeners,” Karlan said. “We determine if a person needs psychiatric care. Right now, the closest unit is in Garden City at St. Catherine Hospital. But that’s voluntary admission only. If someone is a danger to himself or others, he’ll need to go to Larned State Hospital.” 
Without SWGC staff to untangle the details in each case, such situations can easily spiral out of control, with tragic results.   
“Unless we’re there, there’s no one for anyone to call if someone requires emergency mental health care,” he said.
The cost of crisis prevention  
Southwest Guidance Center aims to help the community as a whole avoid that crisis state of mind. Outpatient services treat area residents for an array of mental-health challenges, from depression to post-traumatic stress to psychosis. The center also offers marriage and family therapy, parent support and divorce- and school-related programs. 
“To make matters worse,” Karlan said, “the Governor’s budget wiped out the Family Centered System of Care funding.” 
An important part of community mental health funding for years, these funds guarantee services for children with severe mental illness and provide support for the families of severely and emotionally disturbed children. In dollars, the cost of the proposed budget is a loss of $80,000 for Southwest Guidance Center. In real-life terms, it means pulling out the support services that keep such families from collapse. 
Although “it’s made a world of difference in the lives of people around here,” Karlan said, the system  “has already been unduly put-upon” by funding cuts in the past few years. 
“There’s not any belt left to tighten,” he said. “If we were operating a huge center with whole department modules that could be reduced, it might be a different story. but we’re already seeing everybody we can see, and we’re operating with cuts that have increased since 2007.” 
Over the past three years, Karlan said, the state has taken back two thirds of the money allocated to community mental health care centers, resulting in a $314,000 loss of state funding for the Center in the current fiscal year. 
“It’s been devastating,” Karlan said. “And now, I’m looking at another loss of about 27 percent of what’s left.” 
Residents of the four-county area usually don’t realize how important a strong mental health care infrastructure is, Karlan said, until life hands them a situation that requires help. At that point, it makes a huge difference whether or not the light comes on when a person flips the switch. 
“I would urge the residents of our service area to email, write or call state senators and representatives regarding the potential loss of State Aid and the Family Centered System of Care income,” he said.
125 District/Seward County:
Representative Carl Holmes
State Capitol Room 174-W
300 S.W. Tenth Ave.
Topeka, KS  66612 (785) 296-7670
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39 District/Stevens County:
Senator Steve Morris
State Capitol Room 333-E
300 S.W. Tenth Ave.
Topeka, KS  66612 (785) 296-2419
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38 District
Senator Garrett Love
State Capitol Room 237-E
300 S.W. Tenth Ave.
Topeka, KS  66612 (785) 296-7359
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124 District
J.Stephen Alford
State Capitol Room L-34
300 S.W. Tenth Ave.
Topeka, KS  66612 (785) 296-7696
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
115 District
Representative Ron Ryckman
State Capitol Room 117
300 S.W. Tenth Ave.
Topeka, KS  66612 (785) 296-7644
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