Two Rivers Psychiatric Hospital closing highlights lack of local mental health treatment

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The struggle to preserve mental health services in the metro took a huge hit last week.

Two Rivers Behavioral Systems just closed one of the largest, most comprehensive care facilities in the region, and experts say that will have a big impact on what they call a mental health crisis in the metro.

Two Rivers Psychiatric Hospital had 105 inpatient psychiatric beds for people in the midst of a mental health crisis.

Its closing means over 5,100 people a year will need to find other places to go -- in a system already stretched beyond capacity.

"When I get to the calls, always something bad has happened, you know?" KCPD Sgt. Sean Hess said.

Hess and other officers responding to calls have been forced to take on the burden of being the first-responders for an increasing number of mental health emergencies.

The KCPD sergeant leads the department's Critical Incident Team, made of officers who deal with people suffering from mental illness. He and his team work closely with Two Rivers. It was the main hospital they took people in crisis.

But Two Rivers' closing isn't just affecting KC police.

"You know we are already stretched thin in handling calls with people in emotional crisis situation and just taking some of the resources we have, and it's going to overburden the emergency rooms is what it is going to do," said Chris Ruder, COO at KU Hospital.

"In fact, over the past decade, we know that emergency department visits regarding emergency department visits involving mental or behavioral health issues have increased over 60 percent," he said. "So pretty dramatic increase in patients who are seeking care where access may be difficult."

The dramatic increase in patients seeking care who have trouble accessing it is putting a strain on Ruder's emergency room and others across the metro.

It costs, on average, $2,000 an hour for a person suffering from mental illness to take up an ER bed. Hospitals must keep those patients until they are stable or placed in a mental health facility.

When asked, on a scale from one to 10, how hard it is to place a patient, Rudder said it's usually on the higher end.

"I think we can probably find times when it is one, and we can find times when it is 10. It's variable, but I would say more often than not it is on the higher end of that scale," he said. "It is difficult to find placement on the inpatient side for those who need it as quickly as we would want to."

Two Rivers was one of the few psychiatric hospitals that took children as young as 5 years old. The loss of that resource will hit them the hardest.

"That is going to push more of the kids out to Crittenton and Children's Mercy Hospital and stuff like that, maybe other environments they shouldn't be in instead of getting into the mental heath facilities that are more appropriate for them," Rudder said.

The number of mental health beds for children has diminished from 800 in 2010 to just 350 now in Kansas.

"So when you look at that, the waiting list for psychiatric residential treatment facilities, that says two things to me," said Kyle Kessler, the executive director of the Association of Community Mental Health Centres of Kansas. "One, we probably haven't invested enough in outpatient services, and two, we have neglected the responsibilities of taking care of our kids in our community and our state."

Kessler estimates the loss of 105 beds at Two Rivers is well over 10 percent of the psychiatric beds in the community. It's a loss that's lacking outrage from the community.

"And so if you told someone they would lose 10 percent of the oncology beds in our community or 10 percent of the hospital beds for some community hospitals, that would get their attention immediately. So that would absolutely raise red flags to policy makers," he said.

Experts said this will also flood the metro's jails with people who should be getting mental health help.

If you want your voice to be heard, contact your legislators and demand better funding to take car of this vulnerable population.


If you are having suicidal thoughts, we urge you to get help immediately.

Go to a hospital, call 911 or call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433).

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