Pawnee head worries about access to mental health services

March 4, 2014 by


As executive director of the 10-county Pawnee Mental Health Services, Robbin Cole understands the “big picture” of mental health services across Kansas. But she also recognizes the specific issues for individual and more rural communities like Concordia that are served by her agency.

At Tuesday’s “working lunch” at the Nazareth Motherhouse, she talked about both.

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This was the 25th working lunch, a part of the Community Needs Forum that grew out of informal lunches with the Sisters of St. Joseph in the fall of 2008. Through those informal conversations and local statistics, the sisters prepared a report on “community needs” that was presented at the first working lunch in January 2009 — and the top priority on that list was the need for mental health services in Concordia and throughout Cloud County.

Cole, who has headed Pawnee since 2006, explained many of the services her agency offers, especially at its center in Concordia.

But throughout her presentation, she kept returning to one theme: The challenge of a growing need for mental health services at the same time that cuts to funding and staff make access to those services more and more difficult.

In substance abuse, for example, she said, “Treatment options are very limited and there are long waiting lists, particularly if you don’t have insurance or money.”

The availability of psychiatric medical services is even worse, she said.

“There’s a real crisis when it comes to access to psychiatric care in the state of Kansas,” Cole said. “Our medical schools graduate 11 to 13 psychiatric physicians a year, and even if they all stay in Kansas, a few of them are child psychiatrists, and those focused on adult psychiatry are replacing doctors who retire or leave the state. Eleven to 13 is just not enough.”

Other states that are predominantly rural face the same challenge — and in very rural areas within rural states, it means access to psychiatric care is almost nonexistent.

“It’s very challenging to recruit psychiatric physicians to Concordia,” she said, to chuckles from the audience of more than 50 gathered at the Motherhouse.

Yet Pawnee is determined to provide as much service as possible, Cole emphasized.

In 2013, the agency served more than 6,600 clients — including 540 in Concordia. Pawnee ha 230 employees across its 10-county service area, with 35 of those based in Cloud County.

The agency offers a wide range of outpatient mental health services for children, teens and adults, as well as treatment for substance abuse. Many of its programs are designed for people looking for short-term help with general mental health issues, but it also offers services for people with serious mental health or substance abuse issues.

In addition to Concordia, Pawnee has offices across North-Central Kansas, including Beloit and Belleville.

One way Pawnee is working to ensure access to mental health services is through a training program called “Mental Health First Aid.”

“It’s like a first aid class through the Red Cross to learn CPR,” Cole explained, “except that this first aid is for mental health issues; it gives you the training to help someone in a mental health crisis.”

The eight-hour workshops are scheduled throughout Pawnee’s service area, with sessions in Concordia scheduled for May and August. To learn more, call 785/587-4300 or email

Other updates and announcements at Tuesday’s lunch included:

  • The 2014 Civility Pledge is now being circulated throughout Concordia. This is the fifth annual signature drive organized by the Concordia Year of Peace Committee, to encourage a commitment to civility in public discussions. Pledge sheets are available online at
  • Hands Across Our Community is in dire need of “community coaches” or mentors to work with families trying to reach economic self-sufficiency. The anti-poverty program served 18 families in its first year, and now has families on its waiting list, said director Christina Brodie. To learn more, call Brodie at 275-2101 or email her at
  • The annual Motherhouse Spaghetti Dinner is set for Sunday, March 16. Tickets are available by calling 243-2113, ext. 1223, or emailing This year’s event includes prize drawings, a silent auction, Easter Baskets for sale, grab bags for $1, $2 and $3, and lots more. This annual event is the Sisters of St. Joseph’s biggest fundraiser of the year.
  • “Dinosaurs in the Bible” will be featured in two programs later this month at First Christian Church, Concordia. The Creation Truth Foundation will present the programs at 7 p.m. on both March 16 and March 17. There is no charge for admission, but there will be a free-will offering.
  • The Community Resource Center Food Bank and Helping Hands, a program of Manna House of Prayer, are taking part in the annual Feinstein Foundation Challenge, which ends April 30. The food banks will receive a donation from the foundation based on how much they receive in March and April. So donations of both food and money are especially valuable now, said Susan LeDuc of Helping Hands.
  • The annual Scholarship Auction for the Cloud County Community College Foundation will be April 5, reported new director Kim Reynolds. This year the event will move to the Cloud County Fairgrounds. For details, contact her at

The next Community Needs Forum working lunch will be July 9, from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Nazareth Motherhouse Auditorium. Lunch is provided without charge by the Sisters of St. Joseph, and those planning to come are asked to RSVP to 243-2149 or




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