In a move that advocates fear may lead to more mentally ill people being housed in jails, Osawatomie State Hospital will shut down 29 percent of its patient beds during construction work this year to bring the psychiatric facility up to federal safety standards.
Work has been underway on more than $3 million in improvements at Osawatomie since the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services threatened this year to terminate Medicare and Medicaid payments unless the hospital met standards for preventing patient injuries and suicides. Those payments account for about one-fourth of the hospital’s $26 million budget.
Osawatomie has been replacing patient beds and mattresses, installing new bathroom fixtures and making other changes designed to eliminate things that could be used for choking or hanging or that could be turned into weapons.
But replacing about 50,400 square feet of suspended ceilings will require closing about 60 hospital beds at a time as construction proceeds through the hospital’s buildings, Kansas officials said Tuesday. That will cut the capacity of the 206-bed hospital to 146 patients.
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The construction is expected to start in mid-May and continue through October. But additional renovations could keep the hospital’s capacity down longer, said Angela de Rocha of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services.
Osawatomie has had some restrictions on admissions in place since late last year to prevent crowding. But the construction projects may eventually require the hospital to impose a moratorium on all new admissions, de Rocha said.
Osawatomie State Hospital, about 50 miles southwest of Kansas City, is one of two psychiatric hospitals operated by the state. Osawatomie serves eastern Kansas and Wichita.
De Rocha said the state has been working with community mental health centers and courts to coordinate the care of people who must be hospitalized.
“Everyone who needs to be cared for will be cared for,” she said. “We’re not going to put anyone on the street or leave anyone on the street.”
But Susan Crain Lewis, president of Mental Health America of the Heartland, was skeptical about what would happen to the patients.
“I’m not sure where we’re going to put them,” she said. “Unfortunately, the outcome will likely be more people incarcerated for minor offenses that are symptoms (of mental illness), not crimes.”
De Rocha said the state would like to create crisis stabilization units across the state that would lessen the need to hospitalize patients. One such facility, Rainbow Services Inc. in Kansas City, Kan., provides short-term inpatient care before referring patients to services in the community. It has been successful reducing admissions to Osawatomie.
But Lewis said it was “shortsighted and inhumane” to reduce the number of beds at Osawatomie before such services are widely available.