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Longtime Kansas State Attorney Named Larned State Hospital Superintendent

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The troubled Larned State Hospital has a new superintendent.

Veteran state attorney Bill Rein has been named to head the facility, which provides inpatient treatment for people from the western two-thirds of Kansas suffering from severe or persistent mental illness.

Rein is the former chief counsel for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, which oversees the state’s mental health hospitals in Larned and Osawatomie. More recently, Rein was the agency’s commissioner of behavioral health services, overseeing hospital operations and administration of the state’s behavioral health programs.

Rein drafted the state’s comprehensive mental health reform legislation in 1985 and 1990 while working for the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, which became part of the Department for Children and Families in 2012. He supervised attorneys representing the state hospitals from 1984 to 1987.

Tim Keck, interim KDADS secretary, said the state would be hard-pressed to find anyone more qualified than Rein to take charge at Larned.

“No one in Kansas knows more about our state’s mental health system’s history and institutions,” Keck said. “Bill is the right person at the right time for the challenges facing Larned State Hospital.”

Those challenges include ongoing difficulties hiring and retaining adequate staff. Rein said one of his goals is to improve relations with employees who do most of the patient care at the state hospital.

“Making sure staff are really listened to, and they’re respected, and they’re valued, and all those kinds of things that would go into any job that we have,” he said. “We’re also trying to make very sure that people do understand how much we value their work, and how much we value the overtime, and that sort of thing that many of them are putting into the job.”

Two Larned State Hospital employees testified at a legislative hearing in April that mandatory overtime and limited time off between shifts are taking a toll on employees and their families.

Kyle Nuckolls and Lynette Lewis said employees are overworked and exhausted, and because of that more likely to make mistakes on the job.

A 2015 report from the Legislative Division of Post Audit found that Larned’s sexual predator program was near capacity. The report estimated the program’s costs would more than double by 2025 and that Larned would struggle to find enough staff for the program, mostly due to a lack of available labor in the rural area around it.

In April, the state moved some mental health inmates from Larned State Hospital units to another facility on the same campus run by the Kansas Department of Corrections because of concerns about understaffing.

Rein vowed to do all he can to improve conditions at the mental health hospital.

“I will use that experience to work with the staff of LSH, the Larned community and every other community and type of service that touches the lives of persons with behavioral health needs in central and western Kansas,” he said.

Rein thanked lawmakers and Gov. Sam Brownback for allocating additional funding for salaries to help attract applicants for key positions. He said the biggest obstacle is the inability to provide workers adequate time off.

“They just want to be able to spend more time with their families, want to be able to get to events in the community and those kinds of things that are equally if not more important than salary,” he said.

It’s becoming harder to recruit mental health professionals, Rein said.

“But the real challenge is in the rural areas, where 100 years ago society built their state hospitals. Now it’s a little harder to attract people to go to those kinds of rural areas,” he said.

Angela de Rocha, a KDADS spokeswoman, said 32 percent of the full-time state jobs at Larned State Hospital are open. That’s down from 37 percent last April. However, she pointed out that state employees are only part of the workforce at Larned. Contractors fill many of the positions on an as-needed basis.

De Rocha said that means the overall job vacancy rate at the state hospital is significantly lower than 32 percent, although she could not give a precise figure because the numbers change with patient needs.

Rein succeeds Chris Mattingly, who was named interim superintendent in April 2016 to focus on long-standing staffing and other difficulties at the hospital.

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

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