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KDHE Surveyors Sent To Osawatomie State Hospital

State officials on Wednesday confirmed reports that surveyors with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment were dispatched last week to Osawatomie State Hospital, and that the surveyors in turn summoned the Office of the State Fire Marshal.

Sara Belfry, a KDHE spokesperson, said the nature of the surveyors’ concerns will not be made public until after survey findings are reviewed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a process that’s likely to take several days.

“The surveyors are there to ensure compliance with CMS regulations,” Belfry wrote in an email to KHI News Service.

Brenda McNorton, safety chief at the Office of the State Fire Marshal, said KDHE surveyors requested a “life safety code inspection” of the hospital last week. According to the CMS website, the life safety code is “a set of fire protection requirements designed to provide a reasonable degree of safety from fire.”

“At this time, our inspection is still ongoing,” McNorton said Thursday. “We can’t release anything until the results of our inspection have been delivered to the facility.”

Osawatomie State Hospital is the largest of the state’s two inpatient facilities for adults with severe and persistent mental illnesses. Prior to admission, most of the hospital’s patients have been declared a danger to themselves or others.

Mental health advocates have long complained of the 206-bed Osawatomie hospital being overcrowded and under-resourced. 

When the KDHE surveyors arrived Oct. 20 at the hospital, the facility was caring for 250 patients, which meant more than 40 patients were triple-bunked in rooms meant for two.

On Wednesday, the Osawatomie hospital’s census was down to 235 patients.

The hospital is administered by the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, which last week sent an email to each of the state’s 26 community mental health centers, asking them to refrain from referring more patients to the Osawatomie hospital until after the facility is able to stabilize its census.

Kyle Kessler, executive director at the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas, said the email was not unexpected.

“Over the past decade, we’ve seen a reduction in community-level beds, whether it’s been private hospitals closing their inpatient (psychiatric) units or group home-type settings closing,” Kessler said. “So there are fewer and fewer beds available in the community, which has increased demand on the state hospitals.

“The state is trying to tackle this issue and think creatively about how to solve it,” he said. “But this didn’t happen overnight, and it probably won’t be solved overnight.”

In recent years, lawmakers have cut millions of dollars from a state-funded grant program that community mental health centers use to offset their costs of caring for the uninsured, a group that includes most of the patients referred to – or returning from – Osawatomie.

Belfry declined to say whether the surveyors’ visit was prompted by a complaint.

“KDHE does not release any information concerning the nature of any complaints unless they are substantiated,” she wrote.

Rebecca Proctor, executive director at the Kansas Organization of State Employees, a labor union that represents many state hospital front-line workers, said her members routinely complain about conditions at the hospital.

“Staffing levels are too low,” she said. “Staff is having to work way too much overtime, and there are more patients there than they have room for.”

Rick Cagan, executive director with the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill-Kansas, said he welcomed news of the surveyors being dispatched to the hospital.

“All of us have known about this for a long time,” Cagan said. “I’m glad to see someone’s paying attention.”

Osawatomie State Hospital has had four superintendents in the past three and a half years. The current superintendent is Jerry Rea, who also administers the Parsons State Hospital and Training Center.

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