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OLATHE, Kan. — The Johnson County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) have approved more than $1.9 million in state and federal grants to support mental health services throughout the county. 

On Thursday, the commission unanimously approved the acceptance of a Community Policing Development Crisis Intervention Teams grant for the county sheriff’s department. 

The $186,037 grant will fund an additional mental health co-responder to be embedded within the sheriff’s department to respond to mental health-related emergency situations. 

The grant will cover a two-year salary of a full-time co-responder to be employed through the Johnson County Mental Health Center. The sheriff’s department currently has one co-responder that is an employee of the Mental Health Center.

The grant will fund the new position through September 30, 2023. If no additional funding is secured to maintain the position beyond that date, it will be eliminated. 

Co-responder duties include crisis intervention and follow-up services. In 2020, the program saw 106 calls for service and an additional 327 contacts with individuals with immediate mental health needs.

Tom Dugan, director of finance for the sheriff’s office, said based on a cost benefit analysis done last year, the program has an approximate return on investment of $2.50 for every dollar spent on the program. 

“The benefits would not just be to the county, but to the community overall. The benefits are to the hospitals, to the individuals themselves and the criminal justice center,” Dugan said. 

New services at JCCC 

The BOCC also approved a request to allow the Mental Health Department to hire one new full-time employee to provide mental health services to students at Johnson County Community College (JCCC).

Tanner Fortney, director of operations at the Johnson County Mental Health Center, said the goal is to increase students’ access to mental health support services.

“The idea behind this position is it will be located at the community college, and it will actually be there as a licensed clinical position to be able to provide support to students that are going to be on campus. That may or may not have other avenues, or even be aware that there is support for them,” Fortney said.  

The clinician position would be similar to other clinician positions at Mental Health, but would be predominately stationed at JCCC. The position would be funded through a partnership between the county and the college with JCCC covering 75% of the cost and the remaining 25% paid for by the county using a REACH (Recognizing and Eliminating Disparities in Addiction through Culturally-informed Healthcare) grant. 

Mental Health will allocate $98,000 from the 2022 Mental Health Reserves for the position. 

Community Reentry Program 

The BOCC has approved the acceptance of a $927,513 grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Reentry Project. 

The grant would fund four full-time positions for about two years as part of a reentry program to help individuals transition back into the community.

Funding allows Mental Health to hire a part-time Peer Support Specialist and fill the full-time positions of team leader, clinician, case manager and administrative assistant. 

The four full-time employees will provide service to residents incarcerated at the Johnson County Adult Detention Center as well as residents at the Adult Residential Center who have been diagnosed with a severe mental illness or substance abuse disorder. 

Fortney said the goal is to reduce overall recidivism by helping people build skills and gain new tools to manage their symptoms. 

Roughly 200 people are expected to participate in the reentry program throughout the lifetime of the grant. The reentry project will be a voluntary program for at least six months post-release. Participants will receive case management services as well as cognitive behavioral therapy and programming. 

Based on county data, the average subsequent offenses per person without intervention is about 1.18. Fortney estimates the county could reduce the amount of recidivism by about 50% during the course of the program, which could save the county up to $557,762. 

“Not only is the dollars impactful for us as an organization and a community, but it’s also important because it is helping people to live better quality lives. Help them to be productive, find employment, live independently in the community,” Fortney said.  

Funding for the Suicide Hotline 

Additional funding will help support residents’ access to a suicide prevention hotline.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline provides 24/7 support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. The free hotline provides emotional support through roughly 180 crisis centers across the nation. 

Next July, the prevention hotline will transition from 1-800-573-TALK to 988 to make it easier for people to access support. The 988 Transition grant will provide $600,000 to allow Johnson County Mental Health to hire and train six full-time staff members to assist with the hotline locally. 

Drug Free Communities 

Johnson County Mental Health has received a Drug Free Communities Support grant from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to reduce substance abuse within the community. Thursday the BOCC voted 5-1 in favor of approving the grant with only Commissioner Ashcraft voting against it.

The $125,000 grant will allow Mental Health to hire a full-time Prevention Coordinator to provide support to the Olathe Communities that Care Coalition.

The coalition launched in 2008 as a collaboration between Olathe Public School and the City of Olathe to reduce drug and alcohol use among Olathe youth.

Fortney said the program will focus mostly on prevention services by working with the school district and families to provide awareness and education on drug and alcohol use.

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