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Experts hope mental health kiosks can save lives
Center unveils rural grant program
Gail Sullivan, clinical director at The Center for Counseling and Consultation, holds up a tablet purchased with an Improving Rural Health Grant awarded to The Center and the Pawnee County Health Department. To her right are two mental heath checkup kiosks, also purchased with grant money. The kiosks were unveiled Friday when The Center hosted Mental Health Awareness Day. - photo by Susan Thacker/Great Bend Tribune

Mental Health Awareness Day teaches 'No Stigma'

In the future, central Kansas residents may be able to check their mental health as easily as they can now check their blood pressure while visiting the pharmacy at a big-box store.
Kiosks that provide online access to free, two-minute, anonymous surveys were unveiled Friday during Mental Health Awareness Day at The Center for Counseling an Consultation in Great Bend. The Center and the Pawnee County Health Department were awarded a $110,000 Improving Rural Health Grant last year by the Centene Foundation for Quality Healthcare.
Douglas McNett, executive director at The Center, said 11 kiosks have been purchased. The first kiosk locations are the lobbies of the four county health departments in The Center’s catchment area of Barton, Pawnee, Rice and Stafford counties.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” McNett said. The other kiosks will be available for placement in community facilities such as hospitals, the Family Crisis Center, libraries, high schools and middle schools.
The kiosks are internet based and prompt users to choose a mental health condition they want to screen for. The quick survey can test for six different signs of mental health problems: depression, generalized anxiety, bipolar, post-traumatic stress, eating and alcohol-use disorders. Depending on a user’s responses, the devices could suggest more specific screening or provide resources for additional help.
“I believe this project will significantly improve the lives of many people in our central Kansas communities,” said Robin Rziha, R.N., administrator of the Pawnee County Health Department. “It is a great opportunity for public health to work in partnership with the community mental health center towards improving mental health and substance abuse in a large rural geographic area.”
The need is there. In 2013, the Kansas suicide rate (14.7 suicides per 100,000 population) was 16.7 percent higher than the national rate (12.6 suicides per 100,000 population), according to the Kansas Suicide Prevention Resource Center. The rate in central Kansas was even higher than the state average, Rziha said.

Helping law enforcement
The grant money also paid for wireless tablet devices that can be issued to law enforcement agencies and hospitals, said Gail Sullivan, clinical director at The Center. These are used when a mental health provider needs to determine if an individual poses a risk to self or others. In the past, the mental health expert who was “on call” might need to leave home in the middle of the night to respond to a call from Sterling, for example. If another call then came from Larned, it might take hours to complete the evaluations. With the tablet, an assessment may now be done via a quick video call.

Seed money for Stafford County
Stafford County Hospital also wrote a grant application, which was for more telemedicine capabilities. After The Center/Pawnee County won the Centene Foundation grant, Stafford County officials contacted McNett. He was able to get more money and on Friday he presented a $2,500 check that will go to Stafford County as seed money for a telemedicine project.
Carolyn Dunn from Stafford County Economic Development accepted the check on behalf of the hospital. “It was very generous for them to include us after the grant was submitted,” she said.
Centene Corporation and its Kansas subsidiary, Sunflower Health Plan, also had representatives on hand Friday.