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The pandemic shows need for mental health care. Where to find affordable therapy in Wichita

By Megan Stringer, The Wichita Eagle, original article link

Mental health experts say the implications of prolonged isolation won’t disappear with the virus. The Wichita Journalism Collaborative is reporting on mental health as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Wichita Journalism Collaborative is a coalition of local newsrooms and community institutions, including The Eagle. 
COURTESY OF THE WICHITA JOURNALISM COLLABORATIVE AND KSN-TV

After more than a year of quarantines, business closures and working from home, some have realized that the difficulties brought on by the pandemic will stay with us for years to come.

COVID-19 raised collective awareness around mental health and well being, said Jessica Provines, assistant vice president for student affairs and wellness at Wichita State University.

At the same time people might seek out mental health care for the first time, many have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance after a layoff, or realized their existing coverage doesn’t include counseling or therapy.

Nearly 5,000 Kansans signed up for new health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act in the first six weeks of a special open enrollment period this year — more than double the Kansas residents who signed up over the same time last year, when only people with a certain life event, such as a job loss, could apply.

The special open enrollment period began Feb. 15, created by an executive order from President Joe Biden. It was recently extended and will remain open until August 15.

For those without health insurance or who can’t afford copays, here are providers in the area that offer low-cost or sliding-scale fees for mental health care or counseling.

GRACEMED HEALTH CLINICS

The GraceMed Health Clinics, which have a number of locations across the Wichita area, don’t offer traditional ongoing therapy. However, the call center can help people schedule an appointment with a behavioral health consultant who can make referrals to connect you with the right therapy option, said Jeff Hubbell, director of behavioral health at GraceMed.

The clinics are an option for people who are new to therapy, or suspect they need an appointment, but don’t know where to start.

“We’re sort of a bridge,” Hubbell said.

Health insurance is not required for an appointment with a behavioral health consultant.

Call 316-866-2000 to schedule an appointment. GraceMed has sliding scale fees to help someone pay based on factors such as income and any health insurance a patient does have.

The clinics also have interpreters who can speak Spanish, and access to interpreters for languages other than Spanish and English, Hubbell said.

Hubbell said the barriers to access mental health care for people without insurance are significant. He sees patients who didn’t go to counseling because they assumed they couldn’t afford it, or they didn’t know where to begin to find a low-cost option.

GraceMed will make referrals for therapy based on a patient’s specific needs. For example, if someone needs grief counseling, they might send them to Harry Hynes. If a patient needs counseling because of domestic violence, they might send them to Embrace.

“Help is out there,” he said. “It’s just making the phone call to have the conversations to learn and find out.”

GUADALUPE CLINIC

The motto at Guadalupe Clinic is “No insurance, no worries.”

Counseling sessions at the clinic are free of cost. You might be asked for a $5 donation, which Executive Director J.V. Johnston said the clinic receives about half the time.

Guadalupe Clinic exclusively sees patients who do not have health insurance. However, if someone has insurance for medical care that does not cover therapy or mental health care, they can still access counseling at Guadalupe, Johnston said.

You can call 316-264-6464 to make an appointment. Locations are at 940 S. St. Francis and 2825 S. Hillside. Counseling only takes place at the clinic on St. Francis.

A counselor sees people at Guadalupe on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, generally between 4 and 7 p.m. The Tuesday night sessions are in English and Wednesday night sessions are in Spanish.

Johnston said people shouldn’t be scared of counseling, even if they’re going for the first time.

“If you hurt your leg, you go see the doctor to get it fixed,” he said. “It’s the same thing about mental health. Don’t be intimidated.”

HUNTER HEALTH CLINIC

Hunter Health Clinic also offers a sliding scale fee for people who don’t have insurance. The clinics will mostly see patients for therapy if they are already receiving medical, dental or vision care at Hunter Health, said Kaitlin Boger, director of integrated care.

As a new patient, you can call 316-262-2415 to make an appointment. Clinic locations are at 527 N. Grove, 2750 S. Roosevelt and 935 N. Market in Wichita.

Hunter Health has an integrated care consultant who speaks Spanish, and has a translator on staff.

About 25% of people will meet the criteria for a mental health condition at some point in their life, said Boger.

“It is extremely common and people shouldn’t be afraid to tell their PCP (primary care provider) about it,” she said.

NEWMAN UNIVERSITY STUDENT SERVICES

Newman University offers in-person and telehealth counseling services for its students. In-person sessions have primarily moved to one-on-one Zoom sessions during the pandemic.

The telehealth option, new this semester, is free of cost thanks to a sponsorship by the Student Government Association. It will continue for the remainder of the semester and into this summer, possibly into next academic year, said Clark Schafer, director of university relations.

This summer, 24/7 crisis care and life coaching will also be available.

Newman students can register for the services online at www.thevirtualcaregroup.com/newman. Most students should be able to see a provider within 24 to 48 hours after requesting services.

The appointments are available through a new university partnership with The Virtual Care Group, which offers appointments in more than 250 languages — including English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese.

For more information about in-person counseling for Newman students, contact Scott Mudloff, advisor for special populations, at mudloffs@newmanu.edu.

WICHITA STATE UNIVERSITY PSYCHOLOGY CLINIC

The Psychology Clinic at Wichita State University offers counseling sessions for anyone in the Wichita area, regardless of whether they are a student.

Appointment fees are on a sliding scale, meaning a patient’s income is used to determine the cost of services, said Christina Marvin, director of the WSU Psychology Clinic.

“While we do not process insurance claims for our clients, most of our services are provided at rates well below insurance co-pays, which may also make us a good option for those who have insurance, but have difficulty affording copays,” Marvin said.

“We try very hard to work with individuals who are in need of care, but who may have trouble affording treatment.”

Community members can call 316-978-3212 to set up a first appointment. The machine will ask you to leave a message and clinic staff will call you back to learn more about what services you’re seeking.

The clinic serves anyone living in Wichita and nearby communities. But the expanded use of telehealth in the pandemic has increased the clinic’s ability to see Kansans in rural areas who might have trouble accessing care closer to home, Marvin said.

“We understand that all Kansans are experiencing increased stress right now that is impacting our mental health,” Marvin said. “If you are experiencing stressors that you are finding difficult to cope with, please reach out.”

WICHITA STATE UNIVERSITY STUDENT SERVICES

Counseling and prevention services at Wichita State University offers low-cost therapy to WSU students, whether they have insurance or not, said Provines, the assistant vice president for student affairs and wellness.

Students at WSU can call 316-978-4792 to set up an appointment. You can also schedule online at wichita.edu/CAPS.

An office visit costs $10. However, the university won’t turn people away if they can’t pay, Provines said.

“The pandemic has especially helped raise our awareness about mental health because everyone is experiencing challenges with their mental wellness at this time,” Provines said.

“Treatment does work, and there is help available,” she said.

ADDITIONAL OPTIONS

The United Way of the Plains spring 2021 resource guide lists other options for counseling and mental health, including those below.

Dial 211 for more information and resources from the United Way.

If you or someone you know needs help, you can contact Comcare 24 hours a day at 316-660-7500 or at sedgwickcounty.org/comcare.

If you would like to share your experience with mental health struggles and care during the pandemic, please take our anonymous survey.

Do you know of an option for low-cost, sliding scale or free counseling services in the Wichita area that isn’t listed here? Reach out to mstringer@wichitaeagle.com to be added to the list.

This story was produced as part of the Wichita Journalism Collaborative, a partnership of seven media companies, including The Wichita Eagle, and three community organizations working together to bring timely and accurate news and information to Kansans.

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