Finney County Community Health Coalition part of national pilot project




Finney County has been chosen as one of 10 communities in the nation to participate in a new pilot project aimed at providing resources for local decision makers that will help them develop a better understanding of behavioral or mental health concerns in their communities.

The Finney County Community Health Coalition, sponsored by St. Catherine Hospital, is leading a local effort to enhance community planning for dealing with concerns related to behavioral health, including mental health and substance use.

Verna Weber, executive director of the FCCHC, said the new term being used nationwide is "behavioral health," rather than mental health, because it encompasses more of the components that make up any given issue.

"When someone has a diagnosis for maybe mental health issues, they often have drug and alcohol problems also, as well as issues with domestic violence. And several of those issues all go together," she said.

According to a press release from the health coalition, Weber is leading a Finney County team that recently was invited to join a new national project called Community Assessment and Education to Promote Behavioral Health Planning & Education (CAPE) to provide resources for local decision makers.

Weber said the goal of the project is to identify behavioral issues that are prevalent in the area, but more specifically, to determine how data about those issues is collected, analyzed and utilized.

"And then really, the whole point being, when leaders, such as the city commission or county commission are making decisions, how do they consider behavioral health issues and where do they go to get their data? That is really what this is going to be about, is creating some kind of a toolkit so that when commissioners utilize funds from drug and alcohol funds, how they make decisions about how those funds are used," Weber said.

The toolkit will contain the following types of information: data that is being collected, where one would go to find that data, the number of people who have been diagnosed with some kind of behavioral health issue, how many of those people have drug and alcohol problems, and how many also have domestic violence or anger management issues.

"I mean, it all ties together, and we're hoping it will be down to that detail," Weber said, adding that because the project is new, it is uncertain at this point what direction it will ultimately go. "But that kind of sounds like where they want to move with it. And then there are 10 grantees, so we'll be sharing information between those 10 sites."

The nine other sites are Orleans Parish, La., Garrett County, Md., Pettis County, Mo., Clark County, Nev., Dona Ana County, N.M., Blount County, Tenn., Chittenden County, Vt., New River Valley, Va., and Kanawha County, W.V.

Christina MacFarlane, behavioral health specialist from Compass Health, formerly known as Area Mental Health Center, in Dodge City, will be heavily involved in the project, Weber said.

"One of the reasons that Compass is so heavily involved is because we were able to write to backfill Christina's position. They've got some money to help make sure that she can devote, I think it's 60, 70 or 80 percent of her time to this project. She has been working on co-occurring disorders, which is substance abuse and mental health, so she's perfect for this. It's already somewhat of what Compass' focus has been — of how you determine those two issues with people and how you treat them together," Weber said. "It all just ties together."

The leadership team is comprised of MacFarlane; Dr. John Leatherman, Office of Local Government from Kansas State University; Debra Bolton, Extension Specialist with KSU; and partners of the FCCHC. National partners are North Central Regional Center for Rural Development at Michigan State University, USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture, and SAMHSA's Community Early Warning and Monitoring System.

Bolton, who wrote the grant application, said one major reasons that Finney County was chosen to participate in the project is because of the collaboration that the health coalition has developed with its partner agencies and other nonprofit organizations in the area.

"We had an organizational structure, especially an entity like FCCHS that has successfully pooled their organizations together and said, 'This is an issue,' and has found measurable ways of addressing that particular issue. Issues are better addressed when they're targeted collectively," Bolton said.

She said that the extension office and Finney County's share of the funding will be around $70,000.

According to the health coalition release, the project is tapping into land grant university resources across the country and also localized innovations from the 10 pilot communities. As a result of the project, the CAPE team will have an understanding of how local leaders are getting their community behavioral health information and will have a toolkit with sources of valuable data and training programs to inform their decision-making.

The first step will be for the team to conduct a survey to find out how local leaders are obtaining information on the behavioral health practices in their communities and how to get access to needed information for coordinated local efforts.

Weber called the project a welcome initiative, not only for the Garden City area, but for all of rural Kansas.

"Accessing behavioral health services is a concern in almost every rural community. Hopefully, the lessons we learn here can help others, as well," she said.

For more information about the community behavioral health benchmarking initiative, visit: of follow the project on Twitter @healthbench or Facebook @ The CAPE Project.

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