Editorials

Editorial: It’s time to think about replacing Osawatomie State Hospital

Osawatomie State Hospital continues to lose $1 million a month in federal payments because of problems with patient care and safety. Kansas officials need to think about the treatment of the mentally ill in the state and consider construction of a new facility for acute psychiatric care.
Osawatomie State Hospital continues to lose $1 million a month in federal payments because of problems with patient care and safety. Kansas officials need to think about the treatment of the mentally ill in the state and consider construction of a new facility for acute psychiatric care. File photo

Osawatomie State Hospital, one of two state facilities for the severely mentally ill, has once again failed to achieve federal certification. That fact should disturb every Kansan.

This should also prompt a serious discussion about the state of mental health treatment in Kansas, including the possibility of demolishing all or part of the existing Osawatomie facility and building a new 21st-century treatment center.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services decertified the hospital in December 2015, citing patient and staff safety concerns. It cut off $1 million in monthly Medicare reimbursements, telling the state that problems needed to be fixed before the funding would be restored.

Kansas officials promised to respond. This spring, inspectors took another look and found new problems.

“The kitchen was not maintained in a safe and sanitary fashion,” they found. “The metal blades on the (food blender) were chipped and cracked. The meat slicer was not cleaned and sanitized after use. … The freezer was not holding at 0 degrees Fahrenheit (F) and had water dripping from the ceiling.”

There were other concerns. Infection control procedures were deficient. A nurse “borrowed” medication from one patient to give to another.

The facility lacks on-site radiological services. It has no qualified therapeutic activities director. Some wiring and equipment were improperly installed and maintained, raising the risk of fire.

State officials said they were relieved — at least these were new issues.

“None of the deficiencies that we had before are in what you’ll see here,” said Tim Keck, Kansas secretary for aging and disability services.

That seems small comfort for the patients at Osawatomie. No patient at any hospital should endure unsafe or substandard food or be at risk for infections from other patients. And fire hazards are a concern for patients and employees.

Taxpayers should be angry. The state will continue to lose $1 million a month in federal funds; if those payments aren’t restored until December, as some lawmakers now expect, the state will have forgone $24 million in federal reimbursements for the facility.

It is time to do better. Kansans should demand improved management of Osawatomie and then consider alternatives to the aging hospital itself.

In 2013, after years of complaints, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon proposed replacing the state’s psychiatric hospital in Fulton. Some legislative muscle and creative financing were required, but Missouri is now constructing a $211 million, 300-bed facility in Fulton that’s expected to open next year.

Kansas must now begin a similar discussion. The state needs to figure out the demand for acute care psychiatric services at Osawatomie and Larned State Hospital and then examine the cost and necessity of repairing or replacing one or both of those facilities.

A new hospital could improve patient care, provide a better environment for employees and potentially save the state money in operational costs. The alternative is to spend good money after bad, losing federal payments and providing substandard care to some of the state’s most vulnerable residents.

Every candidate for governor and every state legislative candidate should be asked to take a stand on Osawatomie State Hospital. The status quo is unacceptable. And Kansans deserve better.

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