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Kan. Ambulance Transformed Into Community Outreach Vehicle

The Topeka Capital-Journal, Kan.

A former ambulance has been transformed into an "Outreach Vehicle," which will aid those in need by roaming Topeka's streets one day a week carrying people qualified to provide mental health and minor medical attention.

The program will be "one of a kind" in terms of the level of engagement it will provide, said Topeka Police Chief Bill Cochran.

"The whole concept of this is that we're going to be able to roll out and provide better services to a segment of our community that gets disenfranchised," Cochran said. "We're talking about the unsheltered and those individuals that battle with behavorial health issues. We will engage those people."

Cochran was among those present as the vehicle was unveiled Wednesday morning outside the Kansas Statehouse by representatives from the Topeka Police Department, Topeka Fire Department, Topeka Rescue Mission, Valeo Behavioral Health Care and the Stormont-Vail Foundation.

Cochran said the program is aimed at:

• Providing minor medical attention to those in need.

• Reducing the number of 911 calls received by the Shawnee County Emergency Communications Center, which often come from people looking only for "human contact."

• And reducing the number of visits made to local hospital emergency rooms by people who can't afford to pay, in which case those costs are absorbed by the hospital and passed on to other patients.

Cochran said a desk and a work station will be set up inside the vehicle, which will regularly carry a paramedic from the fire department, a crisis intervention team member from the police department, a homeless outreach advocate from the rescue mission and a licensed mental health professional from Valeo.

The vehicle will initially go out for one eight-hour shift each week, beginning late this month or early next month, Cochran said. Over time, he said, those involved will evaluate whether to go out more often or less often.

The vehicle's crew will also carry such things as water during the summer and blankets during the winter, Cochran said.

The Stormont-Vail Foundation is covering the $16,000 cost to acquire the used/refurbished ambulance while Kansas Gas Service is paying the estimated $4,490 cost of outfitting it, said Gretchen Koenen, public relations specialist for the police department.

Those two organizations are teaming up to cover the $5,510 cost to wrap the vehicle, she said.

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