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Kansas City mental health program could be model for rest of Missouri, lawmakers say 

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A mental health program aiding Kansas City firefighters could be adapted for other public safety organizations around the state, Missouri lawmakers said this week. 

42CARES provides counseling, education, and support for members of the Kansas City Fire Department (KCFD) and other local agencies through the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 42, the local union, with a focus on suicide prevention. The program includes an in-house clinician, 12-step recovery meetings, referrals to other behavioral and mental health service providers.  It was established two years ago and is funded through an annual $250,000 allotment from the city. 

Alicia Jones Pittman, the 42CARES behavioral health program director, told legislators Wednesday the program provided services to other agencies, including the Chillicothe Police Department, as well. 

“There’s no other program in the country right now,” Pittman said. “KCFD is a rather large organization when it comes to fire departments, so they had the resources to be able to say ‘we’re going to make this happen.’ Most fire departments don’t have the resources to be able to do this, and when there’s other shops or other towns in the Kansas City area who need our support, of course we show up and support them.”

Pittman was joined by IAFF Local 42 Secretary-Treasurer Eric Rose before the House Subcommittee on Mental Health Policy Research Wednesday. Rose pointed to the trauma and mental health conditions among first responders, noting the issue extended beyond the Kansas City region.

“A lot of people are worried about PTSD and pensions and retirement — our goal is to get members the help they need before we get to that point,” Rose said. 

Rep. Patty Lewis, who invited Pittman and Rose to testify, said 42CARES could be a model for other programs across Missouri. 

“42CARES is a great program and something I think we could do across the state,” Rep. Wayne Wallingford, the subcommittee’s chairman, told The Missouri Times. “It’s important to recognize and address red flags, and I know the program’s goal is to prevent or at least lessen the potential negative effect of stress on the members and families. This would be a great program to spread across the state.” 

Other mental health providers, including Swope Health Services Executive Vice President for Behavioral Health Services Mark Miller and Burrell Behavioral Health’s Dr. Mark Shoemaker, pointed to high turnover rates and staffing shortages as major hurdles for their clinics. 

Miller also addressed an increased interest in telehealth services since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Swope was recently awarded a federal grant to expand its telehealth capabilities.)

Former DMH Director Mark Stringer told the committee last month staffing was a root issue as more people look at mental health in the wake of the pandemic: While the department hopes to expand its services through new health centers, he said it would struggle to staff them without an increase in wages. 

Missouri ranks No. 12 in need for mental health services but No. 31 in access, according to Stringer.