Its certification at risk, Larned State Hospital seeks $2 million from Kansas Legislature

The Kansas Legislature is being asked to appropriate about $2 million to Larned State Hospital, which is threatened with losing federal certification because of chronic problems with staffing.

Losing the certification from the Joint Commission, a national organization that accredits hospitals, would cost the state $14.5 million in federal funds each year.

Kansas Department on Aging Secretary Shawn Sullivan said the Larned hospital needs $993,000 to hire 23 direct care staff and $940,000 to increase nurses’ pay, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.

The Joint Commission recently cited Larned for a number of deficiencies related to inadequate staffing at the hospital for the mentally ill. Larned also houses the state’s sexual predator treatment program.

State hospitals in Parsons, Osawatomie and Kansas City, Kan., have also reported staffing problems, and all the hospitals are facing major increases in overtime pay because of the staff shortages. State officials said it is difficult to staff the hospitals because the pay is low compared with the same jobs at other institutions.

Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee said staffing problems at all the state’s mental health hospitals should be addressed, including vacancies that have been left unfilled because of a voluntary retirement program for state employees pushed by the Brownback administration.

Sullivan said the administration wants to take a comprehensive look at staffing needs at all state hospitals while addressing the immediate certification concern at Larned.

Many employees at Larned work an extra 12 to 24 hours per week, and overtime wages have increased 723 percent in the past year. Larned had a 45.8 percent vacancy rate for physicians and psychiatrists, 44 percent for licensed practical nurses and 27 percent for registered nurses.

Under the proposal, the current pay range for a senior registered nurse would increase from $23.31 to $31.22 per hour to $25.68 to $34.42 per hour. The pay range for a senior licensed practical nurse would increase from $14.30 to $19.16 per hour to $15.03 to $20.13 per hour.

“We need to look at this voluntary retirement issue,” said Rep. Jerry Henry, a Cummings Democrat.

He said some agencies have been able to keep positions vacant, but that produces more problems in health care institutions.

“When you deal with personal and human issues, you can’t just turn off the lights and walk away and say we’ll get to this in the morning,” he said.

The Brownback administration said more than 1,000 state employees took advantage of the voluntary retirement program, saving the state $34.5 million over two years.