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Clients offer feedback on Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center in first of two public listening sessions

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A handful of those who rely on the services of Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center provided critiques Thursday during the first of two public listening sessions at the center.

Emily Farley, director of community engagement, facilitated the discussion. Referencing recent reports that some clients haven’t been able to receive medication services in a timely manner, one commenter called on the center to “do better” when asked how the center could improve the way it serves community members.

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The commenter pushed back on the response provided by Bert Nash in the article regarding its appointment and medication refill procedures and asked whether the center wanted to follow up on addressing the concerns voiced by clients.

“Does Bert Nash not believe their own patients? Is the position of Bert Nash that the patients that spoke out are lying?”

To protect the privacy of individuals who shared their personal experiences, public commenters have not been identified by name.

The commenter said the majority of problems with existing clients obtaining medications and appointments shouldn’t be blamed on patients being “forgetful” but rather on Bert Nash’s system and its protocol.

“That was pretty hard, especially after so many of my friends have experienced crises by being denied their medication and denied appointments. I was denied an appointment with my provider, given no option to see anyone else and told I would not be allowed to refill my medication. I had to contact a patient advocate, who called, and I don’t know what she did, but the next day an appointment materialized.”

Another commenter expressed their frustration that problems with medication services had escalated to the point where clients aired their concerns with the media.

“I would have felt better about where I go for my meds if Bert Nash would have listened to us in the first place. It shouldn’t have had to get to the paper and patient advocates and all of us making an uproar before Bert Nash listened. Enough of us have complained that it’s not just like one person, which one person should be enough. Also, let’s acknowledge that, like myself, a poor and mentally ill person, Bert Nash and Heartland (Community Health Center) are it.”

They said they want the option to make their next appointment when they finish an appointment – like they do at other medical facilities.

“How are we treating the marginalized people in our community?” they asked. “Why can’t we run here like other medical facilities? It should be easier on us rather than easier on you guys.”

Farley said she heard their concerns and appreciated their willingness to share but did not address the center’s procedures. She acknowledged the increased demand of mental health services and needs in the community, especially during the last two years.

“We know there are things the system is trying to catch up to and it should not be at the risk of people’s lives. We very much acknowledge that, and I can understand the word ‘forget,’ it seems a little flippant to hear that and to read it, and so thank you both so much.”

Representation also was addressed by clients. They asked specifically about inclusive gender designations on forms and data as well as the lived experiences and diversity within the center’s board and staff.

“I imagine that most of the folks who work at Bert Nash are not in the target client population of whom Bert Nash tends to serve. And I’m wondering when big decisions are being made, who is representing the clients at those moments?” one attendee asked.

Farley said board representation is addressed within the new model of care the center is transitioning to, known as Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) and also within its strategic plan.

Patrick Schmitz, Bert Nash CEO, spoke to the board’s lived experiences.

“Knowing some of the backgrounds of the board members, the vast majority of them have lived experience. Some have been clients here, some have been clients elsewhere but understand the mental health system.”

Stephen O’Neill, chief operations officer, said he wouldn’t speak for all of the 300 employees at the center, but he would address his own experiences.

“I’m in a position of somewhat significant leadership here. And I’ll just go ahead and put out there that I identify as an individual that struggles with significant mental health issues, and I’m also a recovering alcoholic.”

O’Neill said his brother, Scott, died by suicide at 34.

“To the extent that it is helpful or relevant, I know in every decision that I’m involved here, I think of my brother Scott and I think of the experiences that I’ve had in our behavioral health system, whether it’s at the LMH emergency departments or psychiatric hospital.”

After the forum, O’Neill called community mental health his “life’s journey.” He said he looked forward to the opening of Douglas County’s Treatment and Recovery Center because it would help those in crisis like his brother.

“He would be, I think, proud of the work that we’re doing today,” O’Neill said. “And I’m really hopeful to get our crisis center open because I think if he had had a resource like that, I can’t guarantee he’d be alive, but he might be.”

Other strengths within the community mental health center’s purview were highlighted during the session, which was attended by about 20 people in person and via Zoom. Most were employees of the center or community partners, including Heartland Community Health Center and Kansas Suicide Prevention HQ (KSPHQ).

The new mobile crisis response team launched on Sept. 11 in coordination with KSPHQ and the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, Farley said.

Marsha Page-White, senior director of innovation and implementation, said the goal of the mobile crisis response team is to “keep people in the community and resolve those crises that they’re having.”

Peer support and case managers are available through the service, which responds to calls seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Page-White said the eventual goal is 24/7 service.

“Not only do we just go out that one time, we’ll follow up the next day,” Page-White said. “We’ll make sure that you get back connected to services or connected to services.”

Case management was commended by one attendee as well.

“She is fierce, she will fight, even her own boss,” they said of their case manager.

Farley said case managers fit in well with the “more holistic approach” of the CCBHC model, which integrates physical health, substance use and mental health care.

A second one-hour listening session will be held at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the center, 200 Maine St. Register for the in-person or Zoom session at this link.

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Tricia Masenthin (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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