Board of County Commissioner candidates on the issues: Addressing mental health in JoCo

The #ZeroReasonsWhy organization seeks to address teen mental health issues and prevent suicides. File photo.

Last month, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for office address ahead of November’s general election. Based on the input we received, we developed a five-item questionnaire for candidates running for seats on the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners.

We’ll be publishing the candidates’ responses to one item per day each day this week. Today we’re publishing the candidates’ responses to item #2:

Mental health issues are a continuing concern in Johnson County, as evidenced by teen suicide rates and calls for police service. What can the county do to improve residents’ access to mental health services and ensure that mental health calls don’t divert police resources from crime prevention?

District 2 (Parts of Shawnee and Lenexa and all of Lake Quivira)

Rob Patterson

I believe the county should partner with the state, our cities, and our schools to address mental health. Not only do we need to ensure the proper funding is in place, we need to make sure our strategies are sound. We need to ensure people know that services are available, know how to access them, and what to do during times of crisis. I look forward to tacking this issue as a County Commissioner.


Jeff Meyers

Mental health calls to the police are many times made to prevent crime or because of crime related issues as evidenced by the recent call from the Truman Sports Complex for a person armed and shooting at employees. This was a person having a mental health crisis. Mental health crises seem to be more and more common. Continuing education of the county services for mental health is vital in helping residents be aware of opportunities for help. These services can include: Mental Health: Pediatric Services, Prevention Services, Mental Health: Adult Rehabilitation Services and Outpatient Use Services. Also, COVID-19 information is important for resident awareness. As a retired high school and middle school educator I can tell you it is imperative to educate teens about suicide. It is important to provide and receive as much information from our teens as possible. We need to continue providing encouragement to our school districts and support through providing programs for teachers to be able to use if needed. My experience was overwhelming with positive results and prevention of teen suicide because of programs I presented to students. It needs to be ongoing and not just a one time shot. Feedback from students was extremely positive and they wanted to participate. Education can be used to help divert the calls to police for crime prevention by eliminating and helping people receive attention prior to crime issues arising. Another important item is the partnership that Johnson County mental health has implemented with many area police agencies. They must be expanded. It has been highly beneficial having a mental health professional available to respond with police officers.

District 3 (Southern Leawood and Overland Park plus Stilwell and Spring Hill)

Charlotte O’Hara

The first thing we must do is get our kids back into the classroom and fully back into sports. The shutdown of the schools has put tremendous stress on our children and their parents.





Stacy Obringer-Varhall

This is an extremely important issue and one of my campaign priorities. It will take government, non-profit and business entities working together to develop solutions. The BOCC has been investing recently to strengthen the mental health services. The co-responder program between the Sheriff’s office and Johnson County Mental Health is a great example of the partnerships that can make an impact on this issue. Public safety is important in our community and can be greatly impacted by mental health issues. We need to continue focusing more resources on mental health issues before they reach level of police involvement.


District 6 (Much of Olathe and western Johnson County)

Shirley Allenbrand

This issue will require the school districts and cities to address. The county did not receive state dollars for more than eight years and therefore we are behind. It is imperative that we address this very important issue. We need to work together to address further efforts though reasonable expanded partnerships with cities, chambers, business and community to help do a better job.

Mike Brown (incumbent)

Johnson County Government has been setting a national standard for our use of Johnson County Mental Health Co-Responders riding along with police officers when responding to calls where mental health issues are a concern. This technique puts a mental health professional on the front lines where often a positive outcome can be reached without the needs for transport and hospitalization or incarceration. Our cities continue to ask for more of this joint venture and as a Commissioner I’ve been supportive of Johnson County Mental Health at every opportunity. More can always be done in the Mental Health lane of course but this is a shining example of identifying a way to provide a critical intervention-service at an early stage in the cycle. To be sure, this joint venture is a good early step however much work remains to be done in the Mental Health services lane.


Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to item #3:

Unlike the majority of the state, Johnson County continues to add population. What kinds of planning for public transportation should be taking place right now to ensure that we can accommodate the needs of residents 20 years from now?