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U.S. Senator Roy Blunt Hears about Mental Health Successes and Concerns in Springfield

Michele Skalicky

U.S. Senator Roy Blunt met with representatives from a variety of Springfield organizations at Burrell Behavioral Health Tuesday to talk about mental health.

He talked about an opportunity for eight pilot states through the Excellence in Mental Health Act, which he co-sponsored, to establish a model where behavioral health is treated like all other health.

"Federally qualified clinics that offer behavioral health, community mental health clinics more fully integrated in understanding who we are," he said.

According to Blunt, the National Institute of Health says one in four adult Americans has a diagnosable and almost always treatable behavioral health issue.  He says if services are integrated—like Springfield is working on doing—a lot of health care problems could be better addressed.

"Missouri's actually been forward leaning on mental health issues for a long time," he said.  "I'm certainly  hopeful that Missouri's one of those eight pilot states.  I think the people who will make that decision understand how hopeful I am that Missouri becomes one of those eight pilot states," he said.

He expects the decision on which states will part of the pilot program to be made next year.  He calls the program “a major nationwide pilot” that’s “the biggest influx of federal involvement in behavioral health in 50 years.”

Springfield’s police chief, Paul Williams, talked about a program aimed at keeping people with mental health issues out of the ER and jail. 

During the meeting with Blunt Tuesday, Williams said the Virtual Mobile Crisis Intervention program has been used for about two years.  According to Williams, before the program was created, the only way Crisis Intervention Team officers could get mental health treatment for those who needed assistance was to take them to jail or to the emergency room.  He says that’s because Springfield doesn’t have a drop-in site staffed with licensed mental health professionals to do evaluations.

"Working with Burrell, we came up with this unique concept of, 'hey, maybe we can connect these people in need of at least evaluation with a mental health professional without going anywhere else,'" he said.

The idea they came up with was to equip CIT trained officers with tablets.  Those allow people who might need mental health treatment to Skype or Face Time with mental health professionals 24/7 at Burrell.

"The person gets wrapped up in that conversation just as if you were sitting across the table from them and then, when they're done, they go back to the officer and they are literally able to say, "ok, this person doesn't need to go to the hospital.  They haven't committed a serious crime.  They're not going to jails, so, please take them here or we'll connect with them here or we're going to follow up with them later," he said.

He says, the majority of the time officers are able to avoid taking the person to jail or to the ER.

Rusty Worley, executive director of the Downtown Springfield Association, says often people with mental illness end up in public spaces to socialize, use internet access and stay warm or cool.  According to Worley, that impacts business.  And he says it’s not just center city.  Worley says, in an effort to strike a balance between the needs of the mentally ill and business owners, they’re looking into some solutions.

And community advocate and volunteer, Annie Busch, talked to Blunt about how behavioral problems are increasing in public schools—and she says it starts in pre-K.  She says having adequate mental health support is key—but there’s not enough currently.  According to Busch, there’s one mental health professional for each Springfield high school and the middle schools and elementary schools that feed into them.

Blunt talked about one of several things he took away from the meeting.

"The fact that veterans want more and more choices for mental health as well as other health, and we should be sure that veterans and others have more and more options," he said.

Blunt co-sponsored the bipartisan Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which was signed into law in February, 2015.  He says the government has long been one of the worst payers in mental health.  But he says they’re chipping away at the problem.  He hopes someday the government will become a leader rather than “a lagger.”

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.