Disparities also reflected in mental health cost data

By Mike Sherry, HCF guest blogger and KHI News Service journalist

Though they share a border, Johnson and Wyandotte counties often occupy different ends of the spectrum when it comes to health rankings.

Wealthy Johnson County typically outshines its working class neighbor to the north, as is the case with the annual report issued by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

The latest example of this disparity comes in data compiled by the Association of Community Mental Health Centers (ACMHC) of Kansas, which calculates county-by-county per capita spending on mental health.

According to the figures, Johnson County leads the state by spending $21.83 per head on mental health.

Wyandotte County ranks 92nd out of 105 counties at $3.48 per person. Shawnee County, which has a population that is a little larger than Wyandotte, spends $10.27 per head, according to the data.

The statewide median is $6.68 per person.

The rates for counties in and around our neighborhood include:

  • Douglas ($8.00)
  • Miami ($7.25)
  • Leavenworth ($1.38)

A report issued last year by the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City calculated that untreated serious mental illness costs Greater Kansas City about $624 million a year, largely due to indirect costs to employers, such as lost productivity and increased absenteeism.

“Policy makers must understand that paying for the costs of treating mental illness is unavoidable,” said Mike Hammond, ACMHC executive director.

The only question, he said, is whether society pays on the front end through community services or on the back end through psychiatric hospitalization or incarceration.

The association provides the per-capita figures to its organizational members — largely to help advocates in low-ranking counties make their case for more local funding.

Association staffer Sheli Sweeney said she compiles the rankings using census data and budget information submitted by counties to the state Department of Administration.

The spreadsheet is not exactly top secret, but Sweeney said the association doesn’t go out of its way to make the rankings public, not wanting to embarrass county commissioners.

A copy of this year’s results made their way to me as I was reporting a story.

The funding stream is different among counties: some have a special mental health levy, others appropriate dollars out of general revenue, and still others have a social services levy that includes mental health funding.

Sweeney cautioned that juxtaposing Wyandotte and Johnson counties is a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison.

That’s because Johnson County Mental Health Center is part of county government while the Wyandot Center, like most other centers in the state, is a freestanding nonprofit. Sweeney said Johnson County might also need to contribute more local dollars, since its low-income residents might still be too well-off to be Medicaid eligible.

But then again, just being part of the government apparatus, does not guarantee an exceptional showing in Sweeney’s data.

Sedgwick County, she said, is the only mental health center that operates like the one in Johnson County and it came in at $6.79 per head.

One other caveat about the data, Sweeney said, is that the numbers come from projections for this year and may not ultimately reflect actual expenditures.


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HCF's Local Health Buzz Blog aims to discuss health and health policy issues that impact the uninsured and underserved in our service area. To submit a blog, please contact HCF Communications Officers, Jennifer Sykes, at jsykes@hcfgkc.org.



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