KCPD searching for new mental health leads following NAMI-KC closure

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - UPDATE: Cindi Keele, executive director of NAMI Missouri, the state organization of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, issued the following statement Thursday, May 19, 2016, clarifying news reports earlier this week about the closing of its NAMI Greater K Kansas City affiliate’s office.

“NAMI Missouri wants to reassure the Greater Kansas City community that only its local office has closed. Education and support programs will continue to be offered to individuals and families in the local community who are affected by mental illness

NAMI Greater Kansas City's core programs of education and support will continue to be offered thanks to the efforts of Kansas City's trained NAMI member volunteers. Current support schedules, locations, teachers and facilitators will not change. Volunteers will receive staff support from NAMI Missouri.

NAMI Missouri is the statewide umbrella for 12 affiliates providing support, education, and advocacy to individuals and families affected by mental illness in the state.  We will continue to offer NAMI’s signature programs in Greater Kansas City: NAMI Family to-Family Education; NAMI Basics for parents and caregivers of children and teens with mental health conditions; NAMI Connection recovery support groups; NAMI family support groups and In Our Own Voice speaker presentations and very soon, NAMI Homefront for families of active service members and veterans.

The affiliate’s decision to close its office represents a transition, but not a retreat from NAMI’s commitment to help improve the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness.

NAMI grassroots volunteers provide the energy and dedication that enable our programs to make a difference in the lives of others. Their role and importance remains unchanged. We are grateful to them and all our friends and supporters in the Greater Kansas City community, new and old, for their continued support.

Anyone in the Greater Kansas City area needing information or assistance can call NAMI Missouri’s toll-free help line at (800) 374-2138 or go to www.namimissouri.org. 

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NAMI-KC announced Monday they are closing their doors. Not only will the move affect countless area families, but the Kansas City Police Department as well.

“A very important aspect of CIT is no longer there,” said KCPD Sgt. Sean Hess.

Hess had a meeting with colleagues Tuesday afternoon to try to figure out how to fill the void NAMI-KC is leaving. The police have partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness for 15 years, garnering training for officers for their Crisis Intervention Training.

"I think they really bring a humanizing aspect to the training that you can't get from law enforcement … They really drive home a lot of the issues that are going on with the mentally ill,” said Hess.

And that training is important, especially for the increasing amount of mentally ill people KCPD works with every day.

“Anywhere between 20 and 25 percent of calls on a daily basis in Kansas City involves someone on a mental health crisis situation,” said Hess.

Kansas City resident Larry Aaron had two sons with mental illness and is a former president of NAMI-KC.

"My immediate reaction was, what are the families gonna do?” he asked.

Aaron’s two sons, Todd and Scott, both had Schizophrenia and passed away from other medical conditions. But the father says the help NAMI-KC provided over the years was invaluable.

"My kids wouldn't have lived as long as they did and we wouldn't of survived. We could not have survived without NAMI. It was life and death,” said Larry Aaron.

Both Larry Aaron and Hess also recognize the need for more funding so organizations like NAMI don’t continue to close, also so police don’t continually get overwhelmed.

“Resources are at a premium. In-patient beds are very rare. So to get somebody intensive mental health services is a challenge on a good day. On a bad day, we're taking them to hospitals and ERs and you start clogging up the system and it's really difficult to get someone into a treatment situation,” said Hess.

NAMI-KC Interim Director Robin Blakely cited lack of funding and staff health as reasons for the closing, adding the following:

The economy has been a challenge. Changes in availability of funding has been a recurring issue for NAMI-KC. Technology changes have taken a toll. The increase in severe need for mental health services has hit this agency exceptionally hard. Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years …

…It is with great sadness that we are closing the current doors of NAMI-Kansas City. Our focus right now is to carefully end this chapter of the NAMI-KC story.  We hope that the programs can be rebuilt and current support groups can continue with the help of NAMI-Missouri, local healthcare organizations, our many police departments, and mostly by volunteers who live here and care enough to speak up and say: YOU ARE NOT ALONE ... We will hold a candlelight celebration to honor the legacy of this organization and to raise awareness for Mental Health Awareness Month on our last day of service which is May 31st.”

NAMI-KC is in desperate need of help moving out of their office this Saturday, May 21 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Volunteers can call 660-973-2723.

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