Mike Garrett, son of a minister and part of the “help a lot” family, said going into the mental health field “was a natural thing”.
Jarrett, 66, will retire at the end of this month after 41 years with Horizons, including his last 15 years as its CEO.
He left behind a much expanded process that continues to change the way mental illness is seen and treated in Reno County and south central Kansas.
Over the years, Garrett said, he has seen ups and downs in prioritizing mental health as a national issue and cause. While current funding has not returned to its pre-recession levels more than a decade ago, collaborative efforts in the community, including in law enforcement and the courts, have reached new levels.
Garrett graduated from Liberal High School, and received his master’s degree in clinical psychology from Fort Hays State University.
“I took a few classes[at FHSU]and found myself drawn to them,” Garrett said. “I enjoyed it more than the basic sciences, like physics and chemistry.”
Jarrett went to work in 1981 as a therapist in Pratt’s office for what was then called the Institute of Mental Health. In 1994, he began taking on administrative responsibilities for what are now Horizons at the Pratt, Kingman, Medicine Lodge, and Anthony offices.
In 2007, he became CEO of Horizons at Hutchinson.
“Horizons was going through a tough time in that 2006 and 2007 time period,” Garrett said. “Our supervisor left, and he needed some leadership. We needed some kind of guiding rudder for the organization. The board of directors approached me, some staff approached me, and I agreed to step in and serve the role.”
Garrett said the offices he ran make up between 25 and 30 percent of the agency’s business.
“Right now we have 208 employees, and we see about 6,500 people a year. Our budget for this next year is about $22 million. I’ve seen it grow a lot over the last 14 years. It (the job) has been a lot broader and (was) a lot more than I was expecting it.”
praised for his leadership
Zenda’s Catherine Whitmer, the board member who promoted Garrett and founding member of the organization that became Horizons, said his promotion was a wise decision.
Whitmer said she didn’t know Garrett well at the time, but they quickly realized his ability.
“We were very lucky when he was hired,” she said. “He started at Pratt and then Medicine Lodge and later moved to Hutchinson. He’s just such a sweet, kind person. I can’t say enough good things about him. Thanks to his leadership, Horizons has really thrived. He’s a light, kind, caring being who knows how to help these people. It’s truly a gift. And he owns it.”
While the job wasn’t quite what he expected, Garrett said he appreciated the opportunity.
“Not only do you have the ability as a clinician to impact the lives of many, many people, but as a CEO, you have the opportunity, by creating policies and procedures, to have an impact on a wider range of people.”
“And to get involved at the state level, you have a broader impact on mental health services for people in need,” he said. “I think it’s a different way of serving, a different way of thinking about service.”
When Garrett began working in the profession, much of the focus was on treating people in residential facilities. In 1991, the Kansas legislature passed the Kansas Mental Health Reform Act, a major shift that reduced the number of inpatient psychiatric beds and closed Topeka State Hospital.
He said the goal was to divert funding to community health centers to treat patients in the communities in which they live.
“The idea was for people to live in the community with the support of those around them, to be part of the community, to have a job and lead a successful life,” he said.
Garrett believes the change has been “very effective in helping people with mental illness to live and thrive in their communities,” despite what he called “the tides” in funding that remain challenging service delivery.
“We are a safety net clinic, so we see everyone regardless of their ability to pay,” he said. “We depend on the state and county to secure the cost of care. As circumstances change, as they did in 2008, 2009 and 2010, our funding was cut.”
“The state didn’t have revenue, but our county has stayed consistent in our funding,” Garrett said. “The counties in our area have been very good partners.”
When treatment is combined with changes in substance use which often includes mentally ill people, it has resulted in more mentally ill people being locked up.
Garrett said it took a while to get to know this and respond to it. But Reno County is now the state leader in that response.
“I’m not sure exactly when that happened, but I’d say 8 or 10 years ago (Reno County) got a crime-reduction grant from the Brownback administration,” Garrett said. “We started the meeting as a group. There were many stakeholders.”
“The goal was to reduce recidivism among inmates in prison. Thanks to that, we have become more aware of people in prison who have mental health issues.”
This led, four or five years ago, to Horizons providing a part-time prison doctor to assess inmates’ admissions and provide them with medication or prepare them for counseling.
Two years ago they added a case manager, co-funded by Horizons and the mayor’s office, to work with individuals released from prison, to aid their transition back into the community and prevent them from returning to prison.
Not just mental health services, but help with other unmet needs such as housing, transportation, and employment.
“If it wasn’t for Mike Jarrett, we wouldn’t have had mental health service in our prison,” former Sheriff Randy Henderson said. “He was very supportive and went out on our limbs so we could start. He provided resources and staff, and it was a great relationship.”
These efforts also led Reno County to join last year’s Escalation Council, an organization whose primary goal is to keep mentally ill people out of prison. Jarrett said Reno County is one of only three places in the state that are part of the council. The others are in Johnson and Douglas counties.
“We deal with the police, the mayor, the judges, the lawyers, the prosecutors and the court services,” he said. “It’s really a good program, where they try to intervene quickly and efficiently to get people to treatment instead of prison.”
The Hutchinson Police Department launched a new crisis response team last year that sent a plainclothes officer trained in counseling and a non-police counselor on calls where they believed a person’s behavior might be related to a mental health issue, to try and resolve the issue. Unstoppable mode.
Under Garrett’s direction, Horizons also opened three new off-site facilities in the community and expanded its offices several times in the mall building it moved into in 2008.
The most recent remodel has just been completed, on the north end of the building.
The latest off-site development is an eight-bed overnight crisis center expected to open before the end of the month. He said they were just waiting for the fire inspection.
It’s a place where those involved in the kind of mental health crisis that often results in a person being admitted to a prison or psychiatric ward at Hutchinson Regional Medical Center can go instead, for up to 48 hours, to stabilize.
“It’s an important part of our model of care to try to keep people with mental illness out of prisons and emergency rooms because of a crisis,” he said. “Law enforcement has been very responsive.”
A four-family youth crisis home opened several years ago to allow young people with a mental health crisis to remain in the community rather than being sent to a facility in Topeka or western Kansas.
This was followed by the creation of a “learning and play therapy center” for preschool children in the former Dillons Living Center opposite the hospital.
Several years ago, Horizons also began offering “Mental Health First Aid” training to local professionals and the public.
“It’s so that people can recognize the early signs and symptoms of someone with emotional distress and mental illness,” Garrett said. “He knows how to get treatment and support as they work to recover from the problem. It has been very well received. The more people we can educate about mental illness, the better off the entire community will be.”
Among the current challenges Garrett sees is learning about and responding to the isolation caused by the pandemic and the Internet.
“In my opinion, the pandemic has had a much more impact on individuals than we thought,” he said. “I think there’s this increased sense of isolation, of lack of participation. I think there has been a real challenge to recognize the impact of those difficult experiences, when you can’t part with family or loved ones at family events, births, weddings, even funerals.”
The shift to virtual work and virtual learning, he said, while having its place, also creates isolation and affects individuals.
Garrett noted the paradox of so-called “social media” that increases isolation and loneliness, while also leading to increased levels of rudeness and violence.
“I think people are suffering from[mental health issues today]more and there are multiple reasons for that,” he said, including near-immediate and persistent awareness of the worldwide tragedy and perceived threats to safety and security.
But I am optimistic. I think people have the ability to learn how to function well, and manage any symptoms of their disorders, whether they are physical or emotional.”
He said that the community is important to provide support and help people identify and overcome their challenges.
Looking back at when he started in the profession, Garrett said, the stigma associated with mental health issues “has decreased significantly” with depression, anxiety, substance abuse “now common topics of conversation” and people more willing to seek help.
“However, there are a few things about major mental illnesses that we need to work on,” he said.
“One example is that people with mental illness are sometimes described as dangerous. Nothing could be further from the truth. They are much more likely to be victims than to commit a violent act,” Garrett said. It could happen, but the probability is slim. There are still a lot of misconceptions about mental illness, but much less than when I started.”
In retirement, Garrett sees a lot of travel in the future—particularly visiting grandchildren.
“My wife and I have been fortunate enough to have had our first three grandchildren in the last two years,” he said. “The downside is, two live in Chillicothe (Missouri) and one in Seattle.”