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High Plains celebrates 50 years, reflects on changes





The High Plains Mental Health Center is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, but its staff is concerned about the future of funding for mental health care in Kansas.

Walt Hill, executive director of High Plains, said the state's funding for his facility to treat patients with serious mental health issues fell 54 percent from fiscal years 2007 to 2012.

The state also gives approximately $736,706 for operations.

The 20 counties in the clinic's service area contribute approximately $750,000 to serve patients with more moderate problems.

The statewide cuts put pressure on local entities, he said.

"There's this kind of a dilemma or dynamic where there's some concern that the state is trying to push off funding responsibility to counties for what is the state's responsibility," Hill said.

According to the state's fiscal year 2013 budget report, the Kansas Legislature added $1.8 million statewide for mental health screenings for those who are not eligible for Medicaid and $5 million to increase grants to community mental health centers.

Hill said the clinic served approximately 5,200 people in 2013 at its offices in Hays, Goodland, Colby, Norton, Philipsburg and Osborne.

One in 25 people in the area use the clinic, and the bulk of them are treated for moderate depression or anxiety. Approximately 20 percent of the facility's cases involve schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Budget cutbacks have affected the clinic. It has lost 25 staff members since the mid-2000s through attrition and a few layoffs.

Administrators are considering the addition of a fundraising position to solicit private dollars for support.

January is national mental health month, and the focus is on health rather than illness.

"It's important to focus as much, if not more on, wellness to prevent illness," Hill said. "Even people that have mental health struggles, what we work with them off and on is about being well, as opposed to ameliorating some disease or problem."

Ken Loos, clinical psychologist at the clinic, said the distinction also does not exclude those who might be alienated by the stigma surrounding mental illness.

"A marriage is crumbling, there's a lot of parental issues going on, the job's stress is getting worse, and someone's losing their temper," Loos said. "

They may think, 'I don't have a mental illness, I just get mad at my wife, I just get really down sometimes, I get really scared sometimes.' "

Hill said financial support is critical because patients often cannot afford treatment. Sixty percent of them come from families that earn less than $25,000 a year.

KanCare also has presented challenges for the clinic.

During a six-month period, delayed payments increased 20 percent since the new system was implemented.

Hill said people who are concerned they or another person might have a mental health issue can contact his clinic.

"What's important is that we try to intervene early," he said.

Loos is hosting two sessions about youth mental health from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday at Sternberg Museum of Natural History, 3000 Sternberg Drive.

The classes will help those who work with young adults to understand risk factors and warning signs of mental health challenges.

Contact Loos at (785) 628-2871 for more information.