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Flat Spending Proposed For Kansas Hospitals That Treat Disabled And Mentally Ill

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Dave Ranney
/
Heartland Health Monitor

It looks like the state won’t be spending more money on its four hospitals for people whose disabilities or mental illnesses prevent them from safely caring for themselves.

Budget committees in the House and Senate have adopted Gov. Sam Brownback’s plan for keeping the hospitals at their current spending levels through fiscal year 2017.

The committees each have forwarded their flat-spending recommendations to their respective chambers.

The state’s two hospitals for people with severe developmental disabilities are in Topeka and Parsons. Its acute care facilities for Kansans with severe and persistent mental illnesses are in Larned and Osawatomie.

In recent months, federal surveyors have cited Osawatomie State Hospital for being overcrowded and not doing enough to ensure proper medical care or prevent suicidal patients from harming themselves.

Hospital officials have submitted a plan to correct the deficiencies in an effort to avoid losing millions of dollars in federal Medicare payments.

Sen. Caryn Tyson, a Republican from Parker whose district includes Osawatomie State Hospital, on Monday proposed adding $500,000 to the facility’s budget in fiscal year 2016, which begins July 1.

Her proposal was driven by “the hardships the hospital has been running into,” she said, adding that the latest findings had “created quite a stir” among hospital employees.

Tyson withdrew her motion after the committee’s chairman, Sen. Ty Masterson, a Republican from Andover, suggested that she instead recommend discussing the additional funding during omnibus budget deliberations. Tyson heeded Masterson’s suggestion and her altered motion passed.

Committee members did not discuss recent reports that renovations in the hospital’s deficiency correction plan were expected to cost $3 million.

Angela de Rocha, a spokesperson for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, said the agency had not yet determined how much the renovations are likely to cost.

“We have not put anything out because we do not know,” she said in an email. “The $3 million is a very rough estimate, could be more.”

The renovations, she said, include replacing the ceilings in every patient area; refitting the bathrooms; installing new beds, closet doors, door handles, light fixtures and vents; and replacing glass mirrors with stainless steel mirrors.

Also on Monday, House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey, a Louisburg Republican whose district includes many hospital employees, said understaffing is to blame for many of the facility’s shortcomings. The hospital is understaffed, he said, because many of its direct-care workers quit after being required to work multiple overtime shifts.

“That’s been our struggle for years,” he said.

Vickrey said he and other area legislators last month asked KDADS Secretary Kari Bruffett to put together a plan to reduce staff turnover.

“There needs to be a strategy to meet the needs we have now,” he said.

Implementing the plan should not cost the state more money, Vickrey said. Instead, he said Bruffett should be able to “move the funds around within” the agency’s budget.

Rebecca Proctor, executive director at the Kansas Organization of State Employees, a labor union that represents many of the hospital’s front-line workers, said Vickrey’s expectations are unrealistic.

“If there’s going to be a plan, it’s going to have more money in it,” Proctor said. “That’s the only way it’s going to work. These are chronic problems that have been going on for years.

“You can’t be in this rural setting where there aren’t that many people to begin with, and then you make them go for years without a raise, and then you make them work all this mandatory overtime,” she said. “Then you wonder why you can’t get people to work there?”

Vickrey said he and Sen. Molly Baumgardner, also a Republican from Louisburg, plan a public forum where hospital employees, patients’ family members and community leaders can weigh in on the hospital’s future.

“We need to get some key issues out in the open, and I very much believe in there being open communication, in there being a dialogue,” Baumgardner said. “I was at a legislative forum Saturday, and I have to say that, right now, the No. 1 concern of the people in my district is whether the state is going to close the state hospital.”

KDADS officials, she said, will attend the forum — tentatively set for the evening of March 2 or 3 — and take questions.

According to budget documents, the hospital has 483 full-time employees. Its annual budget is $29.9 million.

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

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