Panel of people speaking to a room full of attendees with screen projection in the background

Event Brings Public Health and Behavioral Health Together

by Lisa Horn, Public Health Nurse Specialist, KDHE, Local Public Health
Originally published in the Public Health Connections November 2019 newsletter.

A landmark event to align the work of behavioral health and public health took place Sept. 30 at the Cyrus Hotel in Topeka. Ninety people representing behavioral health, public health, corrections, health care, schools and universities attended the Behavioral Health Community Planning Day.

The event was funded through the Preventive Health Block Grant because of behavioral health’s role in community health assessments, improvement plans and accreditation. The grant is facilitated by the Bureau of Health Promotion.

“During their community planning processes, nearly half of the local health departments in Kansas prioritized behavioral health,” said Cristi Cain, director of the Local Public Health program at KDHE and one of the event’s organizers. “Unfortunately, there was no roadmap about what to do next.”

KDHE and Wichita State University designed the Behavioral Health Community Planning Day to help communities across the state move forward.

With 30 presenters/topic areas, the event started with an overview of the mental health system and why public health professionals need to engage in this work. The focus then shifted to gap/problem identification for local health departments to increase awareness about problems that potentially exist in their communities. The afternoon sessions focused on solutions/promising approaches and planning and concluded with a personal story of someone who received behavioral health treatment and is now in recovery.

Numerous respondents expressed gratitude for the event and said they enjoyed the opportunity to learn from other perspectives and connect with people from around the state. Several expressed the desire for similar events in the future and in other regions of the state.

Comments in surveys after the event included:

  • “I appreciate the state prioritizing this issue and holding training to help us at the local level address this issue.”
  • “It was great to hear how communities/counties across our state are addressing behavioral health challenges.”
  • “This was everything and more than we hoped (for). I brought so much back to northwest Kansas to help with our efforts to improve mental health.”
  • “The BEST conference I have been to in a long time!”
  • “Thank you for the opportunity to have the conversation. Valuable, timely, critical, and relevant.”
  • “Thank you for personalizing our work and our mission through the sharing of stories.”

Following the event, Aetna awarded nine mini-grants to local health departments to replicate similar events, to address behavioral health with a different strategy and/or to focus on social determinants of health. At least three future events in other regions of Kansas are in the early planning stages. All event participants as well as other local health department administrators will be invited to a community of practice to be scheduled in early 2020 to share successes, challenges and strategies/best practices. Follow-up and ongoing coaching will be provided to communities on request.“There’s much work to be done and we’re just getting started,” said Amber Dean, research associate at the Community Engagement Institute at Wichita State University and an event organizer. “The connections made and partnerships enhanced Sept. 30 will help us create solutions together to help improve the behavioral health of all our communities.”