The Unified Government Commission heard a presentation about community mental health services from Wyandot Center and Wyandot Inc. on Thursday evening, including how it plans to restart the Frank William Center for the homeless.
However, a UG commissioner explored questions about potential conflicts of interest, and Mayor Mark Holland did not stay at the board’s table for the presentation. Holland recused himself and stepped out because, as he said, his wife works for its parent company, Wyandot Inc. She is a vice president at Wyandot Inc.
Originally there were plans to have one-on-one meetings with the commissioners, but Commissioner Ann Murguia requested to have a special session instead, the mayor said at the start of the meeting.
Commissioner Murguia said that she appreciated the work of Wyandot Center, mental health and other services under Wyandot Inc. She also asked the UG administrator, in the future, to be more specific about what will be discussed at meetings.
“I did not request this special session,” Commissioner Murguia said at the meeting. “I just simply said, if you’d like to present, if your goal in reaching out to the mayor’s office, was to make a presentation about your services, I think that should be done in special session as opposed to in private. That’s just my personal philosophy about the importance of transparency, so the community knows the type of services you’re providing.” It is an opportunity for the organization to sing its praises to Wyandotte County, she added.
She had thought the presentation would include a financial request, she said.
“I understand financial times are difficult for everyone, but my concern was I was informed this was a financial request, and we have a process for every organization that wants to receive funding from the Unified Government,” she said.
In particular, the mayor and commission have been adamant that the process needs to be followed, saying any deviation from that would show favoritism, she said.
She asked about the organization receiving about a half-million dollars for the past two or three years from the Unified Government, through a mill levy.
UG Administrator Doug Bach said the designation of the funds dates back to pre-consolidation days, when the county designated a mill rate to Wyandotte Mental Health Center annually. Under the UG, it is a similar process, and now the UG administratively decides the amount of funding it wants to give, and then sets the mill rate for it.
Bach said the UG administrator recommends an amount for the Wyandot Center and then the commission votes on it in the budget.
Randy Callstrom, president of Wyandot Inc., said the money allocated by the UG goes directly to Wyandot Center for its programs, and not to the parent organization Wyandot Inc. or the other services. The UG money funds positions providing direct care for those who are uninsured, he said. The monies to Wyandot Inc.’s management services come primarily from fees for services generated mostly from Medicaid billings, Callstrom said.
“It’s no secret that some organizations have been under extreme fire particularly from our mayor for making sure that they do not receive any funding, or even the appearance of being funded,” Commissioner Murguia said. “Our mayor offered to veto our entire budget this summer because it might have appeared that I was involved with an organization that was slated to receive some funds. So, I recognize you’ve done your legal duty to try to separate those corporations so there is no conflict of interest with the mayor, and his wife working for you, but you should know that that offer has been made from other organizations and found not acceptable.
“My goal is this, whatever the rules are in Wyandotte County, which we have a history of and a bad reputation for, whatever the rules are, they need to be applied equally across the board and it should be a level playing field,” Commissioner Murguia said. “My concerns are that that may not be the case. Unfortunately, a very good organization like yours, just like the other organization, doing amazing things to help some of the poorest people in our community, are being treated differently.”
The nonprofit community mental health organization was restructured in 2010, with Wyandot Inc. then becoming the parent organization to Wyandot Center, and also under Wyandot Inc. were PACES (for services to children), Kim Wilson Housing and City Vision, at that time. The Frank Williams Center, which has drop-in services for the homeless, opened in 2011 and the RSI (Rainbow Services Inc.) opened in 2014 as an emergency stabilization center.
Although the Wyandot Center and other programs from Wyandot Inc. have faced budget cuts in recent years, including state budget cuts, Callstrom did not directly ask the commission for more funding on Thursday night. The commissioners, while briefly touching on questions about finances, did not directly say they were considering increasing or decreasing the organization’s budget.
Wyandot Center is the designated community mental health center for Wyandotte County, Callstrom said. It has been funded by the county for many years, and a state statute requires the county to provide funding.
Commissioner Hal Walker, serving as mayor pro tem, asked for more financial information, on how much is spent on administration vs. support services, and also for lists of the board members of the five boards of Wyandot Inc. and Wyandot groups. He was concerned about whether it was a valid comparison to say that Wyandotte County is among the bottom of the Kansas counties giving money to the community mental health center per capita, when Wyandotte County may give a lot more total money to the local community mental health center than do smaller counties with less population. He said the other smaller counties might spend more than the $3.50 per capita in Wyandotte County but still not have as good services.
Answering commissioners’ questions, Callstrom said the board of directors’ positions are not paid positions. Callstrom said 84 percent of the budget goes to salaries and direct costs for services, while 16 percent goes to administrative costs and overhead.
A paradigm shift?
Commissioner Melissa Bynum, who was employed as community relations director for Wyandot Inc. from October 2009 to December 2014, but is not currently working there, asked if the community was experiencing a paradigm shift with recent innovations, including Crisis Intervention Team training for law enforcement in handling persons experiencing mental health crises, and the use of the RSI stabilization center.
Judge Kathleen Lynch, who attended the meeting, said in 2012 there were at least 149 persons taken by the local sheriff’s department officers to Osawatomie, requiring about three trips each, for court case appearances.
The Crisis Intervention Team training for law enforcement was implemented in 2012. Rainbow Mental Health closed, and in 2013 there were 189 cases, she said. Then RSI opened in 2014 for crisis services, and the case numbers were lowered to 175, she said.
In 2015, there were 102 cases filed, she said. “That’s a significant decline in the number of transport officers who have to go down to Osawatomie, in the cost of the overtime that comes about,” she said. A lot of people went through jail diversion instead of to the jail, she said. Judge Lynch also said many people now are paying off their fines.
About PACES, which includes services for children, Judge Lynch said that the supervised exchange center and services for protection for abuse has provided a safe place for supervised exchange of children. Not only was it great for law enforcement, as it required less hours spent on these cases, it was great for people who use the services, she said.
Commissioner Jane Philbrook said she had a lot of feedback from people that the supervised exchange service was working well, and they liked it.
Commissioner Gayle Townsend said she has seen the move toward decriminalizing mental illness in the past few years, and she was glad to see the overall picture presented at the meeting.
Wyandot Inc. and related subsidiaries in 2015
Callstrom said that during fiscal year 2015, Wyandot Inc. had 550 employees across five agencies. Wyandot Center served 6,875 adults; PACES served 3986 youth; RSI served 1,999 individuals separate from the other totals from April 2014 through February 2016; and Kim Wilson Housing helped 195 households avoid eviction.
The budget in fiscal year 2015 was close to $36 million, Callstrom said. Thirty-two percent of the revenue was from government grants, he said, and most is earmarked for specific services, including a couple of homeless grants. About 9 percent of the grants received are from the state and the UG combined, he said.
That 9 percent equals about $3.2 million, and all of those dollars are allocated to serve the uninsured, Callstrom said. The state and UG dollars all go to Wyandot Center programs and the staff hired to serve the uninsured, he added.
Wyandot Center is a safety net and provides all services necessary regardless of people’s ability to pay, he said. He added that a 2012 study found that the total cost of untreated mental illness was $64 million to Wyandotte County and about 10 percent of that was direct costs to the community. He said 22 percent of Wyandotte County residents are uninsured and 34 percent of all consumers Wyandot Center and PACES provide treatment to are uninsured. He said Wyandot has a sliding scale for fees, but has found that it was more expensive to try to collect fees from clients than to not pursue collections.
At any given time, the agency is serving about 1,000 adults with severe mental illness who are receiving intensive community support and about 1,000 youth with severe emotional disorders receiving intensive community-based support, according to Callstrom.
According to Wyandot Inc.’s Form 990 for 2013, the umbrella organization’s former CEO received total compensation of salary plus benefits of $215,454 in 2013. The board members that year were listed on the Form 990.
Frank Williams Center to reopen
The Frank Williams Center for the homeless, launched about five years ago, provided laundry, showers, coffee, access to computers. On Feb. 12 those services were closed due to loss of funding in other parts of the organization that had gone to underwrite those services, Callstrom said.
“I’m very pleased to share with you tonight that next Tuesday, April 5, with the incredible support of one particular donor, and other donors who have outreached us in response to the closing of Frank Williams, at 9 a.m. Tuesday we will reopen the services of Frank Williams,” he said. “We’re very pleased the community has helped respond to this and look forward to continuing to provide those services through other philanthropic donations and other grants and foundational supports.”
Other Wyandot programs
He also discussed Wyandot’s assistance in helping individuals find housing, and to sign up for health care with Enroll Wyandotte, as well as to help clients find local jobs, and to help individuals gain access to resources they need. Wyandot also has a targeted initiative to address the situation of persons in mental health crises and their interaction with the justice system. Besides training for law enforcement, the agency has a mobile crisis responder, and a jail diversion specialist.
For children and families, PACES offers an exchange and visitation center, with supervision, as well as Robert’s Place, which is a children’s emergency shelter. Previously, children were being taken far away from Wyandotte County because of a lack of space. There are also partnerships with the Kansas City, Kan., Public Schools and other school districts to provide school-based therapy, pre-kindergarten therapy and the Wyandot Academy, he said.
Toys for Dottes gives kids’ gifts to parents so they can give them to the children at the holidays, he said.
In addition, there are some housing initiatives offered by Wyandot that help persons find safe housing, support services for veteran families, and an initiative to open up other housing for homeless.
Also offered is mental health first aid training for residents, and trauma-informed care for staff and partner organizations to help them understand that many clients have experienced trauma in their lives, he said.
Callstrom said Rainbow Services Inc. was started to prevent needless state hospitalization, needless emergency room trips and needless jail bookings. The RSI facility, a crisis center, provides triage. If a police officer picks someone up for a mental health reason, such as disrupting, annoyances or being inebriated, the trip to RSI should be a one-stop place where the officer brings someone in and the officer is back out on the street in 10 minutes. That compares to some hours of waiting at jail or in the emergency room to process cases, he said. The program has support from the law enforcement leaders in the county.
RSI has a sobering unit, he said, which is an alternative to jail, and provides links to other resources. There is also a crisis observation unit and crisis stabilization unit at RSI. RSI has nursing and psychiatric services available around the clock, he added.
There is a collaboration involved with RSI that includes Johnson County and other agencies. In the first year, about 60 percent of people in RSI were from Wyandotte County, 30 percent from Johnson County and 10 percent from other areas, he said. In the second year, 67 percent were from Wyandotte County.
More than 70 percent of the RSI clients are uninsured, he said. RSI was originated from a state grant for $3.5 million a year and the grant will terminate in June of 2017, along with the lease, he said.
“We are in the process of trying to secure long-term sustainable funding for that very needed program,” Callstrom said.
Also, as health care and managed care changes, Wyandot Inc. is one of the organizations that is receiving reductions in budgeted revenue, Callstrom said. He estimated that $1 million was lost since July 1, 2015, because of policy decisions at the state capitol, he said, as KanCare has been mandated to reduce costs in Medicaid expenses.
The funds that were lost were being used to help fund some other services Wyandot provides, he said.
“We are in a transition time in funding, not only at the mental health center, but at health care across the country,” he said.
Callstrom, who thanked the commission for the financial support, said during fiscal year 2015, Wyandot Center was allocated about $536,000 by the UG. It is about $100,000 less than 10 years ago, he added.
To see a video recording of this meeting, visit YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Il1VtL46BU.