Topeka — An announcement on the future of the Rainbow Mental Health Facility did not come Wednesday as many expected at the monthly meeting of the Kansas Mental Health Coalition.
Lea Stueve, assistant secretary at the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, attended the meeting along with Angela Hagen, the agency's director of behavioral health services.
"The secretary (Shawn Sullivan) would like to talk about next steps with you, so he has asked that we not talk about that today. So I don't have anything to share with you on Rainbow," Hagen said.
Asked when Sullivan wanted to discuss the plan for Rainbow that KDADS is developing, Stueve said: "I would imagine probably at the January meeting, God willing that everything continues to fall into place — so he can answer questions then," referring to the coalition's meeting scheduled for Jan. 22 at Valeo Behavioral Health Care (map).
At the coalition's November meeting, KDADS officials said the plan for Rainbow would be "wrapped up pretty tightly" by Thanksgiving.
But the agency is still "putting the final touches on the plans and contracts," KDADS spokesperson Angela de Rocha said following the meeting.
"We are being very careful to ensure every detail is worked out before making an announcement," she said. "We are not in a race, we want to get it right. The plans for Rainbow going forward will be announced as soon as we can."
Most of the Rainbow Mental Health Facility in Kansas City, Kan., has been mothballed the past two years after failing a fire marshal’s inspection. In July, KDADS asked for input on how to move forward with the facility. KDADS oversees the state's five hospitals for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled: Rainbow, Larned State Hospital, Osawatomie State Hospital, Kansas Neurological Institute in Topeka and Parsons State Hospital and Training Center.
KDADS Secretary Shawn Sullivan has said the plan for Rainbow includes a “a drop-off, triage and assessment type of center” where people could be taken by law enforcement or mental health screeners. The idea is to provide short-term services aimed at reducing the number of patients sent to the state mental hospitals in Osawatomie and Larned or to corrections facilities.
Amy Campbell, coordinator for the Mental Health Coalition of Kansas, said that she likes what she's heard so far about the "Rainbow Alternative Project" in the works "...if they can develop a model...that shows real results that they can then replicate throughout the state.
"This is something we've talked about for an awful long time. I like the direction of it," Campbell told coalition members, who are a mix of mental health advocates and program directors.
"This looks like an alternative to the old pattern of 'stay with the same limited resources, same limited options and hope it works,'" she said.
But she said, the recent consultant's report that concluded more than $8 million could be saved at the state hospitals likely would make implementing the new model challenging.
"Legislators...are already budgeting that money in their minds for something else," Campbell said. "I believe (Sullivan) is absolutely 100 percent committed that...any savings at these institutions needs to go back into the mental health institutions or the alternatives created to serve people who perhaps should not be there."
But, she said, "it would not be at all unusual to see (a legislator) come up completely independently some time during the legislative process and order the secretary to follow the consultant's recommendations and capture the money for the state general fund."
"Protecting dollars within an already stressed system could be difficult in a Legislature that's constantly looking for savings," she said.
Also during the meeting, coalition member Rocky Nichols raised alarm over a recently introduced bill in Congress that he said would effectively end lobbying by mental health advocates who receive part of their funding from the federal government.
"This is unprecedented in Congress. There's never been a bill like this introduced," said Nichols, who is the executive director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas.
"It takes several positive ideas that are out there and already on the table regarding mental health and then in that candy puts several poison pills that would devastate services for people with mental health conditions — including defunding state recovery programs, dramatically reducing consumer programs, and reducing legally based advocacy services," he said.
Coalition member Rick Cagan said the bill could present an opportunity to move forward the positive elements, which have made no headway as part of other initiatives, he said.
"There are some serious poison pills here," said Cagan, director of the Kansas chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. "But this is an opportunity to lift up the very positive features of the bill and try to defeat the poison pills."
The KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute. It is supported in part by a variety of underwriters. The News Service is committed to timely, objective and in-depth coverage of health issues and the policy making environment. More about the News Service at khi.org/newsservice or contact us at 785-233-5443. Visit www.khi.org.