March 15, 2017. Lawrence Journal-World.

The Douglas County Commission received but didn’t commit to a request from interfaith group Justice Matters to renovate an existing building for use as a mental health crisis intervention center that could be opened this year.

Justice Matters board member Rose Schmidt requested at Wednesday’s County Commission meeting that the county lease a former Kansas Social and Rehabilitation Service building at 19th and Delaware streets and renovate it to serve as a crisis center. Also shared during Schmidt’s presentation was a layout showing how the site could accommodate an observational calming center, crisis stabilization beds and a sobering or detoxification center.

In response to the presentation, commissioners invited Bert Nash Community Mental Health CEO David Johnson and Lawrence Memorial Hospital Chief Operating Officer Karen Shumate to elaborate on a mental health crisis stabilization center the hospital looks to open this year.

Justice Matters developed the plan after visits to existing crisis centers in the northeast Kansas area and a phone call with officials at a facility in Wichita, Schmidt said. From that, it was estimated Douglas County would need a space of 7,500 square feet for a center.

Schmidt said Justice Matters had approached the proposed site’s landlord, who indicated the identified building could be renovated to accommodate a crisis center and leased to the county for $140,000 in 2017. Were the county to enter into a five-year lease, it could lease the building for $100,000 the last four years and occupy it “roughly” 90 days after a lease was signed, she said.

The facility would be an interim solution, not a substitute for the mental health crisis intervention center the county plans to build in association with Bert Nash, Schmidt said. The county entered into a memorandum of understanding with Bert Nash in December 2015 to construct a crisis center north of Bert Nash’s headquarters near Second and Maine streets, on land the mental health service provider owns. The county has since enhanced the site through the acquisition of the adjacent Lawrence school district maintenance yard.

Schmidt said Justice Matters’ purpose was to provide a solution to what she and other members of the group thought was an urgent need. The community couldn’t wait the three to five years required to get voter approval for a bond issue and then build the facility, commissioners were told.

Schmidt acknowledged LMH’s planned crisis stabilization center would have a calming area, which the Justice Matters proposal addressed. It did not offer any solution for detoxification, and Schmidt questioned to what degree patients would receive therapeutic treatment in its proposed four crisis stabilization rooms, instead of just awaiting transfer to Osawatomie State Hospital.

In response, LMH’s Shumate said Schmidt’s waiting-for-transfer concern was “the situation we have now, (which) we are trying to get past.” LMH was designing the facility in consultation with Bert Nash and other community providers, she said, and it was intended to provide patients with treatment in the center and to line them up with ongoing services once they leave so they “don’t fall back into a dark pit.” Discussion on just what programming would be available was ongoing, she said.

Johnson said that what was delaying decision-making on a proposed county/Bert Nash crisis intervention center was identifying the specific programming needed to help patients in a center and after their release — and how to pay for it.

“These programs don’t break even,” he said. “They have to have some sort of subsidy to move forward, and in all likelihood that’s the larger chunk of money we are talking about.”

It has been assumed any bond issue to fund a crisis center would also include added taxing authority for mental health programming. In response to a question from a Justice Matters member, County Commission Chair Mike Gaughan said he didn’t know when commissioners would put a bond referendum for a crisis center before voters.

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