Paola family hoping to improve Kansas mental health care in woman’s memory

PAOLA, Kan. — Original Post

A Paola family is fighting for change.

They lost a loved one to an accidental overdose, but they said she was trying to get help. They are hoping a proposed bill will save lives in her memory.

“She had. plans. She was ready to move on,” her father, Jerry Bennett, said. “Get past the obstacles in her life, and move on.”

Her family says the 28-year-old struggled with depression and substance abuse. Last year in April, her family said Kristi tried to get into a treatment facility in Kansas, but couldn’t get in because of insurance issues. They finally found one that would take her in Texas, and she was pre-approved.

“We called the facility in Austin, and they accepted her,” Stephanie said. “We bought a plane ticket that night, and she was supposed to be on the plane on Tuesday. On Monday they called me and said, ‘Oh, never mind. We made a mistake.'”

They said her insurance denied Kristi. She felt helpless after that, and days later, she died of an accidental overdose.

“She wouldn’t be going through all of this if she could just attempt an overdose, and then be admitted to an ER, and then be admitted to a facility that could help her,” Stephanie said. “That’s what she thought she had to do, and that should never be the answer for anyone.”

Her family said they believe it was a desperate cry for help.

“She wanted to get better badly enough that she’s dead now,” her sister, Stephanie Bennett, said. “That’s how much that she wanted this — that it cost her her life because she was that desperate to get the help.”

Her father reached out to Kansas Senator Tom Holland, D-Kan., who helped write the proposed Kristi L. Bennett Mental Health Parity Act. Kansas Senate Bill 249 aims to help people get the mental health and substance abuse care they need when they are in crisis, and it has bipartisan support.

“This is just a very, very tragic situation, and I’m determined to make sure that Kristi Bennett’s legacy is one that will have knocked down barriers for those with acute mental health situations or conditions so they can get access to the treatments they so richly deserve,” Holland said.

“This bill will save thousands of lives, and most likely save insurance money over time,” Jerry said. “Lets fix the problem immediately. Let them in for a longer period of time, not just kick them out after 72 hours of evaluation, let them get the treatment they need and they wouldn’t have to go back. I think she would be proud.”

Senator Holland said he hopes the bill will be heard by a committee sometime within the next month. Kristi’s family would like to see it pass by the end of the session and signed into law by the governor.

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