The state’s disability services agency signed contracts valued at $810,000 with facilities in Manhattan and Salina to improve community-based crisis intervention options for people in a 14-county region struggling with mental health and substance abuse issues.

The idea is to provide a less-restrictive setting for individuals in crisis who otherwise might land in hospital emergency rooms, county jails or state hospitals. Shortages of hospital beds and outpatient services helped compel the new government investment by the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services.

KDADS earmarked $725,000 for Pawnee Mental Health Services in Manhattan to serve Riley, Pottawatomie, Geary, Clay, Cloud, Washington, Republic, Mitchell and Jewell counties. In addition, the agency provided $85,000 to Central Kansas Mental Health Center in Salina to serve Saline, Dickinson, Ellsworth, Lincoln and Ottawa counties.

“We believe these new centers will significantly improve care for the mentally ill in their communities and comfort their families as well,” said Tim Keck, the KDADS’ secretary. “We hope to expand this community-based care model to more parts of Kansas in the near future.”

He expressed optimism results from community-oriented centers in the Kansas City, Kan., Topeka and Wichita could be replicated in rural areas of the state.

Kyle Kessler, executive director at the Association of Community Mental Health Centers, said action by the Kansas Legislature and Gov. Jeff Colyer to deepen the network of crisis centers was an important development.

“Key partnerships among community stakeholders and legislators were also major factors in creating these programs that provide a ‘port of calm’ for individuals who need something more than outpatient treatment, but not quite an admission to a state mental health hospital,” Kessler said.

State officials said community-based center services offered people better opportunity to be supported closer to home. In addition, law enforcement and county jails staff can be liberated from providing care they’re often not equipped to deliver. It’s more cost effective to serve individuals in the community rather than at a state hospital, officials said.

The Association of Community Mental Health Centers sounded an alarm two years ago about insufficiency of state funding to community programs devoted to mental health. The organization recommended a two-year, $20 million program to restore state aid eroded during the previous decade. A significant portion of that funding was restored by state lawmakers, Kessler said.

The state’s two dozen mental health centers must treat all patients who come to them with serious mental illnesses regardless of ability to pay.