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New KC mental health crisis center is 'better option than jail or ER'

The KC-ATC helped 250 people in two months
Posted: 5:05 AM, Jan 17, 2017
Updated: 2017-01-18 00:06:29Z
New mental health center provides better relief
New mental health center provides better relief

A new mental health crisis center is already busy, providing a service that wasn't there before.

The Kansas City Assessment and Triage Center opened at the end of October at 12th and Prospect, and has served 250 clients since.

Before the KC-ATC, when someone was suffering a mental break, or an episode related to a substance abuse disorder, they'd go to the emergency room or jail.

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The officers who'd respond to those calls would try to solve a problem with a complicated answer. Many times officers would hand the person a piece of paper with a number to a mental health organization, because the ER or jail wasn't the proper place for them to go.

Russell Newlun was filling out housing applications at the KC-ATC. An apartment would be better than his makeshift shelter at 9th and Harrison. It was his third time there, trying to figure out a more stable future.

Program Manager Stephanie Boyer said the KC-ATC is doing what the ER and jail don't - connect people to services they need.

"People are often told where to go, what to do, but sometimes they need someone to hold their hand and do it along with them," Boyer said.

The center has a sobering and stabilization unit, where clients can stay for up to 23 hours. Case managers will help them get connected to services, like medications or housing. Sometimes people will get reconnected to those services.

The KC-ATC works directly with police departments and local ERs.

Officer Eric Anderson with KCPD's Crisis Intervention Team says it's a beneficial service for the community.

"Now we have a place we can take people that have slipped through the cracks before, that haven't met the benchmarks of long-term hospitalization," Anderson said.

Anderson says they'd get calls on the same person four times a night sometimes, which is discouraging.

"The person gets released into the community again and hasn't really been helped at all," Anderson said.  "They haven't gotten medication, they haven't gotten any sort of counseling or anything."

Why? Jails and emergency rooms are swamped.

A Missouri Hospital Association study found that Kansas City emergency rooms get 17,000 visits a year from people with substance abuse disorders and mental illness.

"The psychiatrists in jail are overworked just like everyone else, so they're quickly getting people in and out. Quite honestly, the people we arrest are not in jail long enough to get that help," Anderson said.

Boyer anticipates the KC-ATC getting busier as word spreads there's a different option.

The new challenge moving forward will be how to handle more people, in that 23-hour limit, who often have to sober up first.

"We lose some hours there sometimes, but as soon as we can we have those conversations and figure out what's going on with people," Boyer said.

"I'm very grateful," Newlun said.

Newlun never intended to go to the KC-ATC, but it's given him a door where he didn't have one.

"Hopefully with the addition of medication, I can think on a clearer note to keep my head above water," he said.

The KC-ATC runs 24 hours a day and is operated by Rediscover. Clients have to be willing to go there.

Boyer said there are talks for more centers in different parts of the metro. Most likely the next one will serve Eastern Jackson County.

Anderson is looking forward to really making a difference.

"It helps them go back to the way they were before, when they didn't have the police called all the time, and get that encouragement to get back on their medication," Anderson said. 

The Kansas City Assessment and Triage Center is located at 2600 E. 12th Street in KCMO. You can call them at 816-965-1100. 

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Sarah Plake can be reached at  Sarah.Plake@KSHB.com

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