Comprehensive Mental Health Services has adapted to the changing needs of Eastern Jackson County for 45 years.

The organization takes what President and CEO Joy Copeland calls “a total health approach” to care. It serves about 6,000 people a year at its 10 facilities, most of them in Independence.

The focus is on a team approach to care and on addressing a client’s interrelated issues.

“And that’s what we do every day,” Copeland said.

The group celebrates its 45th anniversary with a luncheon and annual meeting today in the ballroom at the Holiday Inn on 39th Street, near the stadiums. There will be awards, and the speaker is Dr. Jose Reyes, a consultant who CMHS, using grant funding, has been working with on cultural competency.

“Basically what we believe is that everyone brings value. ... Everyone comes from a different culture,” Copeland said of focus on cultural competency.

CMHS was founded in April 1968 as the Independence Area Health Center. It adopted its current name in 1981. Much has evolved over the years.

The idea of just addressing a client’s presenting issue – the symptoms – generally isn’t enough.

“We’ve realized people are more complicated than that,” Copeland said.

An example of the more integrated approach is CMHS’s embrace of a new state program in 2012, called health homes. The idea is a coordinated point of service for a client, addressing chronic health issues, mental illness and substance abuse. About 450 CMHS clients on Medicaid get the service.

Medicaid is a state program, and the state is trying to both save money and improve people’s health, Copeland said.

“Missouri is the leader in health care homes,” she said.

Many clients struggle with more than one health issue – she mentioned diabetes, obesity, hypertension, asthma, COPD and others – and those tend to compound problems.

“And we see this cluster of medical issues that tend to go along with the population that we serve,” she said.

That has profound effects.

“This population dies 25 years ahead of time,” she said.

Statewide, she said, thousands of Medicaid clients are now getting service in health homes, and the Missouri Coalition of Community Health Centers says health outcomes have improved and the state saved $23.1 million in the program’s first 18 months.

Gov. Jay Nixon has argued that mental health services are among those hardest hit by the General Assembly’s decision not to expand Medicaid to nearly 300,000 people, as envisioned under the Affordable Care Act. Nixon favors the expansion.

“He has been behind the mental health issue for a while,” Copeland said.

Many CMHS clients are uninsured or underinsured, and it draws on a variety of funding sources, including the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, the REACH Foundation, Jackson County’s mental health tax – “And we utilize those funds for folks who have no other means to pay,” Copeland said – and the county’s anti-drug tax, as well as state and federal funding.

Medicaid expansion would help, Copeland said.

“More people would be getting the services that they need,” she said.

That also would force CMHS to add to its staff of 250 “because we’d have something of an influx of new people,” Copeland said.

The long-term benefits, however, would include fewer costly visits to the emergency room, fewer and shorter hospitalizations and, ultimately, more people able to be productive, hold a job and pay taxes, she said.

CMHS these days also is putting a greater emphasis on education and prevention.

“In the past, we’ve not always had the luxury and the ability to get out and do that kind of thing,” Copeland said.

One example is a program called mental health first aid, which involves eight hours of training – not to teach someone to come up with a diagnosis but to be more aware of signs and symptoms of possible problems as well as “just knowing who to call,” Copeland said.

“We’re always looking for best practices, always looking to improve what we do ...” she said.

Copeland has been in the field for 30 years and has been president and CEO since 2011, when William H. Kyles, who held the job for years, died. He is fondly remembered.

“He was bigger than life,” Copeland said, “and I could never have had a better mentor, a better boss and better friend.”