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Top Kansas Lawmaker To Consider Additional Funding For State Mental Hospital

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A key lawmaker said he’ll encourage his legislative colleagues to support additional funding for Osawatomie State Hospital.

“There’s a huge amount of duress out there,” said House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey, a Louisburg Republican, referring to the 206-bed facility for adults with serious mental illness who’ve been deemed a danger to themselves or others.

“As soon as we go back into session,” Vickrey said, “several of us, I’m sure, will be meeting with the governor’s staff to find out what we need to do to get people the treatment they need.”

Federal officials in November threatened to terminate the hospital’s Medicaid payments — $6.8 million in the current fiscal year — after inspectors cited the hospital for not doing enough to ensure proper medical care. In one instance, a patient had to have a toe amputated. Another patient was taken to another hospital’s intensive care unit after the patient’s blood clots went untreated due to a communication mix-up.

Federal officials agreed to a temporary lifting of the threat last month after the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services filed a plan for correcting the hospital’s deficiencies.

The plan included suspending voluntary admissions whenever the hospital’s census exceeds 185 patients and no longer taking patients whose “sole diagnosis is anti‐social personality syndrome, substance use disorder, or an organic mental disorder such as trauma or dementia.”

Prior to the survey, admissions to Osawatomie State Hospital had been at record and near-record levels, causing dozens of patients to be triple-bunked in rooms meant for two.

Vickrey said he dreads the potential “tragedies that can occur when someone needs this level of mental health treatment and can’t get it.”

Room in the budget?

This year’s legislative session begins Monday. Gov. Sam Brownback will deliver the annual State of the State address Thursday evening, when he is expected to outline his administration’s plan for offsetting a projected $294 million deficit for the second half of the current fiscal year and a $436 million deficit in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The state’s budget situation means any spending increase will be challenging. But Vickrey said that if Brownback’s office doesn’t propose additional funding for the hospital, he “certainly” will.

“We can’t fix everything for everybody, but we need to have the appropriate bed space in our (state) hospital system for the people who need to be there,” he said.

Vickrey said many of his constituents work at the state hospital. “It’s a very tough situation out there,” he said. “What people tell me is that there have always been high censuses over the years, but they’d peak and go back down. Now, it seems like they’ve peaked and not gone down.”

When federal surveyors first arrived at the hospital in October, the hospital was caring for 250 patients, which meant that more than 40 patients were triple bunked in rooms meant for two.

The hospital campus is in state Rep. Kevin Jones’ district.

“I’m not an expert on this,” said Jones, a Republican from Wellsville. “It seems like every time I go out there, things are fine. But I have constituents tell me some pretty terrible things have happened. I think there needs to be a lot more focus on the system and how it works. Because, ultimately, if there’s going to be a solution, it’s going to come down to the funding.”

Jones said he, too, will encourage his legislative colleagues to put more money in the hospital’s budget. But he’s not optimistic.

“We can try,” he said. “I don’t think any legislator can look at what’s going on and want to take money away, but everybody is going to have something that they want to see funded, that they feel passionate about. I just hope we can protect what’s there now.”

Spending at the hospital declined slightly from $29.1 million in fiscal 2010 to $28.2 million in fiscal 2013. Lawmakers added $3.6 million to the hospital’s budget in fiscal 2014 and 2015 to offset the costs of a 30-bed expansion that followed a KDADS decision to downsize its Rainbow Mental Health Facility in Kansas City.

Studying the system

KDADS officials, addressing a meeting of the Kansas Mental Health Coalition last month, said that increasing the Osawatomie State Hospital budget may not be the most efficient way to improve the state’s approach to treating the mentally ill.

“The question, really, is whether our resources are dedicated to the right places,” said Gina Meier-Hummel, commissioner of community services and programs at KDADS. “And, perhaps, are we investing in the wrong places? Do we need to reinvest in certain other places?”

Meier-Hummel said KDADS is conducting a study to find the most efficient way to fund the state’s mental health system and determining the most appropriate role for the state hospitals.

Osawatomie State Hospital is one of two state-run mental health facilities in Kansas. The other is in Larned.

Angela de Rocha, a KDADS spokesperson, said the study should be completed sometime this summer.

She also confirmed reports that a surveyor from The Joint Commission, a national organization that accredits hospitals, spent two days at Osawatomie State Hospital shortly before Christmas.

The surveyor, de Rocha said, cited the hospital for “structural problems” in some rooms that might allow suicidal patients to hang themselves, and problems in medication management and infection control.

Hospital officials, she said, have been “conscientiously addressing the problem areas that were identified” by The Joint Commission surveyor.

De Rocha also announced that Bill Rein, a longtime KDADS attorney, has been named director of the state’s two mental health hospitals and its two hospitals — in Topeka and Parsons — for people with severe developmental disabilities. In that role he will oversee Jerry Rea, superintendent of Osawatomie State Hospital and Parsons State Hospital and Training Center.

Dave Ranney is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.

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