Ottawa residents stood motionless about noon Monday as they watched a 24-year-old suicidal man ultimately agree with Ottawa police officers to come down from the east-facing ledge of the K-68 bridge over the Marais des Cygnes River.
While some crisis situations play out in public like the nearly two-hour ordeal Monday on the bridge overlooking Forest Park, 320 N. Locust St., Ottawa, that’s not the full picture, Kim Wood said.
Wood, an emergency room clinician with the Elizabeth Layton Center for Hope and Guidance, 2537 Eisenhower Road, Ottawa, conducts mental health screenings on people in crisis.
“As far as these critical cases that are very public, what you’re not seeing is behind the scene,” Wood said. “We have law enforcement and hospital staff and screeners that are tied up for hours and hours on end trying to find locations for people to go. Sometimes it takes us several hours of calling various hospitals because there are no places to put a person.”
Leslie Bjork, Elizabeth Layton Center interim executive director, put in perspective the pressure state funding cuts have put on the mental health care system.
“Personally, for our agency, over the last 10 years we’ve seen cut after cut in state funding, and those cuts mean reductions in our ability to provide community based services,” Bjork said. “When community based services are not available, needs get to the crisis level that require expensive and upsetting treatment like acute care that can be very disruptive to families. So I think that’s probably issue No. 1 as to why we are seeing more critical cases at this time.”
To Wood’s point, Bjork said, a reduction in hospital beds has put a strain on the system.
“I think what Kim is speaking of is also related to the number of hospital beds that have been decreased in the state of Kansas over time,” Bjork said. “So in the same 10 years where mental health centers have lost state funds and grant funds to support out-patient care, we’ve also lost a number of in-patient beds, both state hospital beds as well as community beds. So kind of from both ends, we’re seeing those options dry up in terms of funding.”
The shortage of beds will be tested even further with Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services officials recently announcing plans for reducing the 206-bed Osawatomie State Hospital’s census to 146 patients while more than $3.4 million in renovation work is taking place through the fall to improve safety measures at the facility.
Some law enforcement and mental health officials in the region have said reducing the hospital’s census by 60 beds during the renovation project might mean some mentally ill people will wind up in jails, according to numerous media reports.
But Jeff Richards, Franklin County sheriff, said that is not an option for the Franklin County Adult Detention Center, 305 S. Main St., Ottawa.
“We cannot have anybody in the jail unless they are charged with a crime,” Richards said, referring to mentally ill individuals. “We don’t have a facility to treat them or to keep them safe or to give them the attention they need. The jail cannot be the landing place for these people. They’re not criminals. They have a crisis that needs to be dealt with [by mental health professionals].”
Bjork and other members of the newly formed Ottawa/Franklin County Crisis Intervention Team Council agreed with the sheriff that the jail was not a suitable environment to house people who need mental health treatment.
The council — which includes Elizabeth Layton Center for Hope and Guidance, Ottawa Police Department, Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, Franklin County Attorney’s Office, Ransom Memorial Hospital and Franklin County Emergency Medical Services — was formed to address mental health issues more effectively before they become a crisis situation, representatives of those agencies said during a meeting Wednesday morning with local media.
“At this time, the mental health centers are doing a pretty good job of maintaining a low census at Osawatomie State Hospital,” Bjork said. “So what we are hearing is if we are able to continue the census where it is now there will likely not be the need for a moratorium on involuntary hospitalizations.”
If the state hospital starts turning away involuntary admissions, Bjork said, the Elizabeth Layton Center and Crisis Intervention Team Council would continue to explore their options.
“So at this time, 80 percent of our work is working very hard to come up with diversion plans for folks that can help maintain safety outside the hospital setting, but we have not received a no in terms of an involuntary hospital need,” Bjork said. “If that [moratorium] happens, that will be concerning and I think this group has already begun a great conversation about how can we strategize for that? What resources are people able to tap into? What would we do if that moratorium would happen?
“We are working very hard with a number of other folks to help the state understand this predicament and to find out what those resources might be,” she said.
Doug Carder is Herald senior writer. Email him at email@example.com