Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter is asking state lawmakers to consider adding regional mental health facilities to improve access to treatment and speed up the evaluation process.
Sheriff Easter says the long wait times for competency hearings and admission to the state psychiatric hospitals creates a burden for local jails and hospitals.
Easter says about 40 percent of the inmates at the Sedgwick County Jail are suspected of having mental illness. To serve the population, the county created a special unit in the jail about four years ago.
"We have a mental health pod in our jail," Easter says. "It costs about $700,000 a year to maintain, and we are able to provide them with a higher level of mental health care."
The mental health pod can house 46 people.
Easter says the county was able to streamline mental health and substance abuse treatment for inmates by working with Comcare, the county’s mental health agency.
“They start the paperwork to re-enroll them [in Medicare or Medicaid], and then we transport them over to Comcare immediately after being released from jail so they can get started on therapy, medications and a treatment plan,” Easter says.
He says western and eastern Kansas counties don’t have the same resources — and some don’t even have a hospital — so having a state-run facility in those areas would be helpful.
Easter says Sedgwick County is an ideal location for a regional mental health facility because it generates about half of the state’s evaluation requests.
Easter provided a snapshot of the mental health issues facing sheriff offices during a workshop with lawmakers in Topeka last week.
Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar.
To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.