New mental health triage center planned in Kansas City

Written by Muleskinner Staff

By MARGARET STAFFORD
Associated Press
(KANSAS CITY, Mo., AP) — A new mental health assessment and triage center is expected to open in Kansas City next year, funded largely by proceeds from the sale of two area hospitals earlier this year, Attorney General Chris Koster announced Wednesday.
When it sold the St. Joseph Medical Center and St. Mary’s Medical Center in February, St. Louis-based Ascension Health, a nonprofit organization, agreed to set aside $20 million to be used for charity care. In negotiations since then, the decision was made to channel $2 million a year over 10 years to provide partial funding for a new mental health assessment facility near downtown Kansas City, Koster said.
State, city and health care officials said during a news conference that the center will help alleviate a severe shortage of resources and funding to treat the mentally ill, who often are sent to jails and hospitals for treatment. It will offer 16 beds to assess, stabilize and triage people, with those who need more help being sent to other care facilities or jail, depending on the circumstances.
It is expected to serve about 6,000 people per year and have an annual operating budget of $3 million, with help from private donations and resources from Kansas City-area hospitals.
Koster, who has the authority to oversee the transfer of assets from nonprofit to for-profit groups, said recent mass shootings, such as the deaths of nine people at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, are vivid reminders of how untreated mental health problems can take an enormous toll on people and communities. He said those shootings are only the most extreme examples, with untreated mental illness causing daily problems for people and the organizations that try to help them.
“The assessment and triage center will provide immediate attention for those who are in desperate need of care,” Koster said, adding it will also ease burdens placed on emergency personnel, hospitals, law enforcement and municipal courts.
Kansas City Municipal Court Judge Joseph Locascio, said he sees people with mental illness and substance addiction, who are often homeless, in his court every day for municipal violations.
“The cycle of sending these people through jails or hospitals is not only ineffective but wastes millions of dollars a year,” Locascio said. “This center will help sober and stabilize them and, more importantly, connect with them with the mental health services they so desperately need.”
A building owned by the Missouri State Department of Mental Health will be renovated to hold the center. It will be leased to the city of Kansas City, which will pay the costs of renovations. An operator for the center has not been chosen.