Kansas Mental Health Initiative Gets Mixed Reaction

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Kansas Governor Sam Brownback says that, with the Sandy Hook School shooting fresh on his mind, he's taking on the problem of mental health care access in the state.

But some mental health advocates say that they aren't clear where this money is actually coming from, or if it will be anywhere near the amount they say they need to solve the problem.

On Thursday, Brownback announced the new $10 million initiative to serve the most at-risk mental health patients.

"It seems like we haven't made progress since columbine at getting at these shocking cases," Brownback says.

While the nation argues about guns and video games, Brownback says this is an issue the state can tackle now. The governor's 1initiative focuses on the most at-risk clients, providing intensive case management and crisis services.

"We want to make this state safety net system more effective and stronger," he said.

Mental health advocates in Kansas have been arguing for years that their budgets have been cut to the bone, but while the $10 million program sounds good the advocates say the problem is this is not new money, it's just money being shifted from one program to another, and advocates aren't clear yet about where that money is coming from.

Case worker Bonnie Castro says she's seen how the mental health system in Kansas has deteriorated over the years. Back in 1998 she needed help coping with depression and PTSD.

"It just wasn't hard, you walked in and said 'Hey I'm not well can I get some help?' Nowadays with people I'm serving it's not so easy," she said.

Mental Health America of the Heartland says the state's budget cuts over the years have been devastating. Money for emergency services hasn't increased in 10 years and state grant money for uninsured and underinsured people has been cut in half. Advocates say simply that they need more funding.

The governor did not indicate whether that would be an option.

"It's not a small amount of money we invest in mental health in the State of Kansas," Brownback said, "$433 million is a good amount of money, but you could say we could do more - but where?"

The governor says his initiative also establishes a panel of experts who will evaluate the current mental health system and make recommendations for improvements.

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