WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — A Sedgwick County Community Taskforce investigating a teenager’s in-custody death is pushing for big changes when it comes to responding to mental health calls.

During the meetings, some members discussed the need for Wichita to have a state-operated, regional mental health facility. Cedric Lofton‘s case was just one more reason they felt the demand was growing.

“It’s pretty obvious that mental health is on the rise, has been for quite a while,” said Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter. “We can’t just sit around and hope that it goes away because it’s not going away.”

KSN obtained new numbers from Sedgwick County when it comes to inmates awaiting transportation for mental health evaluations. In March, 28 inmates were waiting for transfers, with the average wait time almost 158 days, and the longest wait time was 298 days.

“We’re simply asking that there be a new mental health facility that has 50 beds that is paid for by the state that can deal with the involuntary commitments that we’re having to wait to send to Osawatomie and the mental health competency evaluations and competency restoration,” said Easter.

However, Easter wasn’t optimistic the state would build a new mental health facility as he said this has been a request from the county to state lawmakers for almost seven years.

“I think they really understand. They’ve heard the story, they’ve heard our cries for help, if you will, they’ve heard us talk about the mental health crisis, and we’ve been in a mental health crisis for a number of years,” said Robyn Chadwick, president of Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph.

Chadwick was more optimistic lawmakers will consider a new hospital in Wichita, with the Lofton case as one of the deciding factors. The hope is to have 50 hospital beds to try and ease wait times for state hospital beds. Keep in mind that Lofton’s case focused on whether or not officers should’ve sent him to the Juvenile Intake and Assessment Center (JIAC) or Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph Hospital.

Both Easter and Chadwick agree that staffing issues and the number of available beds continue to be problematic when it comes to addressing mental health issues.

“But if they’re full, they have to be taken to Kansas City, so that’s a whole other unique aspect of this is juvenile beds there’s not a lot of,” added Easter.

“It’s all related, and we just have to work together to come up with solutions that work for the best of Wichita and for this south-central region of Kansas that we take care of,” said Chadwick.

KSN heard from both city and county leaders Monday, who also didn’t seem optimistic lawmakers will look to build a new regional hospital here in Wichita since lawmakers are currently in the veto sessions. However, they said there will be a renewed push to get this done for the next legislative session.