Lt. Governor Jeff Colyer spoke during the Rural and Frontier Subcommittee meeting held at the Ford County Sheriff's Office on Thursday.

Colyer was expected to attend the meeting however weather inhibited him from ending in-person and instead spoke during a televideo set up.

"Behavioral health has been a huge issue for Kansans for decades," Colyer said. "Growing up in Hays and as a provider, I saw it first hand.

"It is a very important piece in our community and technology plays a part in how we can reach people in rural areas.

"It is paramount for the most vulnerable Kansans and we need to make a personal commitment and belief in patients and our community."

Colyer added that the state has added $25 million for the 2018 budget for mental health issues.

Renee Geyer, the lead chair and grant coordinator at Compass Behavioral Health presented the focal points to the subcommittee that also saw Kansas Senator Bud Estes and Kansas Representative Brad Ralph in attendance along with many other legislators.

"The vast majority of all Americans living in underserved, rural and remote rural areas also experience disparities in mental health services," Geyer said. "Rural issues are often misunderstood, minimized and not considered in forming national mental health policy."

Geyer presented the history of the subcommittee that originated with a focus on mental health needs of children in the child welfare system then in 2008 became the Frontier and Rural Subcommittee.

Geyer touched on SAMHSA grants which are grants received through the population diversity in the state.

She also indicated the shortage of health care services in rural areas as well as health care providers.

"We face a lack of providers who also have more areas to cover," she said. "Televideo will help that."

Televideo is video conferencing where patients and providers can talk through a tablet or laptop, which allows providers to meet with patients they normally wouldn't be able to reach for face-to-face visits.

Areas such as Dodge City are listed as densely settled rural area who also have a high diversity rate.

For providers in say an urban area like Wichita, a provider is approximately within 4 miles of patients to where in rural areas a provider can be 246 miles, Geyer stated.

Another issue is the suicide rate in Kansas which has seen a 20 percent increase between 2004 and 2013 for rural areas and a 17 percent increase throughout the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Geyer stated that Mental Health Block Grants for 2017 funded residential providers for uninsured and underinsured patients for both behavioral health and substance abuse however the number of providers and locations are limited.

"There are 64 beds available in western Kansas, 32 of which are at New Chance in Dodge City," she said. "The eastern part of the state has more than 100 providers and an unlimited number of beds available.

"That is the problem we are facing."

Moving forward with tackling the issue facing rural Kansas with behavioral health, Colyer added, "Over the next few years we will provide better support to Kansans and get them to stay in Kansas and not have to seek assistance elsewhere.

"We in Kansas, we're going to deal with our own issues and develop a long-term commitment to providers and patients.

"You know the meth and opioid crisis is different for us in rural areas because we don't have the access to care like in urban areas.

"It is important to move forward and get that assistance.

"I am excited to move forward and we got to do it together."

To contact the writer email vmarshall@dodgeglobe.com