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Noonletter, Dec. 5, 2018

Crysta Henthorne
Kansas News Service

Waiting for psych beds

The number of residential psychiatric wards in Kansas has dropped to 8 today from 17 in 2011 and now about a third as many beds are available for overnight care.

One factor has been a limit on the number of days the state’s privately managed Medicaid programs will authorize for a stay in one of the treatment centers.

So now some 140 children simply wait to get intense treatment for a range of potentially critical mental health problems.

On Tuesday, reports McClatchy newspapers, Democratic Gov.-elect Laura Kelly spoke angrily about the situation at the latest meeting of a task force examining the state’s chronically troubled child welfare system.

“I’m stunned, honestly, that your agency has not done anything concrete to deal with that issue,” Kelly said.

She directed her comments toward Susan Fout, the deputy secretary of the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services.

Said Fout: “We know we’re not doing the service we need to for the youngsters. ... Kids are getting lost.”

Kelly focused on child welfare issues as a state senator and campaigned on, among other things, a need to reform foster care and other services for kids in crisis.

States across the country have been struggling with ballooning foster care numbers in recent years. Plans already in the works to overhaul the Kansas system, Madeline Fox reported late last month, come with their own risks.

Foster care as a business

At the same task force meeting, Fox reports, legislators, foster parents and other child advocates said the state needs to study whether farming out foster care services to private companies has been a good idea.

Kansas is one of only two states that turn nearly all their foster care duties over to private contractors.

Now the task force wants a central system that makes key facts about individual foster kids available to all those people who need it — social workers, teachers, police, attorneys representing children and the Department for Children and Families. (All that information wouldn’t be shared with all types of players in the system.)

It’s also pushing for quicker placements to safe foster homes and to hook up children who need mental health care.

Take the Jayhawks and the points, plus taxes

Kansas has a few far-flung casinos. Soon, the political winds suggest, it may also be one of a fast-growing number of states where folks can lose their money on the occasional missed free throw or wayward penalty kick.

With a federal ban on sportsbook knocked down by the U.S. Supreme Court in May, states can get in on the lure of wagering on athletics. Time to learn your way around point spreads and the over/under.

Stephen Koranda reports that legislators now talk about not whether Kansas will get in on the business, buthowto tap into it.

Make the taxes too high, and bettors will wager illegally. Ban online gambling, and maybe the same thing happens. Legalize sports wagering mobile apps, and kids could end up making bets on their phone and slipping into addiction.

“If you (levy excessive taxes),” said Republican Sen Bud Estes, “you just ensured that the illegal gambling structure will stay in place and people won’t go to the legal side of it.”

Lawmakers are also pondering whether casinos should be the only places taking bets, or if you could also go to a sports bar or lottery ticket retailer to win money when KU bows out of the tourney in the second round.

Shooting the breeze

Residents largely spoke against a proposed wind farm in central Kansas. They said it posed a threat to property values, a spoiling of prairie aesthetics and unspecified health concerns. But ultimately, reports Brian Grimmett, the Reno County Commission decided to let the project move ahead.

Developers can now begin work on getting permits that will guide, for instance, how far away the turbines have to stand from homes.

Scott Canon is digital editor of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @ScottCanon.

 Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

As the editor of a statewide news outlet, I aspire to work with our reporters to give Kansans a clear-eyed view of the place they call home. That means delivering hard-hitting stories that expose those things that keep Kansas from being the most vibrant, healthy place it can be. You can reach me at scott@kcur.org or 816-235-8023.
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