A push in the Kansas Legislature is underway to privatize the Osawatomie and Larned state hospitals. That’s not a good idea.
Fixing the problems at the facilities is a top priority that requires the attention of all state officials, particularly at Osawatomie, which serves people with severe psychiatric problems.
Because of security lapses at Osawatomie, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in November cut off Medicare payments for patients.
A survey found that the hospital failed to protect suicidal patients, properly supervise care and perform safety checks. Inspectors last fall found several safety concerns, including a male patient with a history of criminal sodomy being placed in a women’s hallway. A staff member in October was raped by a patient.
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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said proper security checks on the patient had not been made.
Getting Medicare recertification could take a few more months. Meanwhile, the loss of reimbursements could cost the state about $900,000 to $1 million a month.
Deteriorating conditions and safety problems have been ongoing at Osawatomie, which has 146 residents while renovations are occurring. It’s long past time for the trouble to be corrected.
On Monday the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services announced a 10 percent pay increase in the starting salary for registered nurses to reduce staffing problems and improve efforts toward recertification.
Yet some state officials promote the line that Kansas should push off its responsibilities to care for people with severe mental illness on some private outfit hoping for better results.
Tim Keck, interim secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, wrote this week in The Star: “I think that the most irresponsible course is to continue the status quo while closing the door to a potential public/private partnership before it has even been examined.”
That’s hardly been a winning formula for success for KanCare, the state’s revamped Medicaid program that handed off responsibility for caring for low-income, disabled and frail elderly Kansans to three managed care companies. KanCare shifted about 380,000 persons out of the state-run Medicaid program into a managed care network run by large private insurance groups. The change was to be a way to deliver care more efficiently. It hasn’t lived up to its promises.
Instead of following that path to privatization, the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services should do whatever is necessary to improve security and upgrade services at Osawatomie and Larned state hospitals. Larned has 529 patients in its three different units.
People who trust that their loved ones with severe mental health problems will receive proper care at Osawatomie State Hospital should expect the best and, at the very least, that they will be safe too.
Johnson County Commission Chairman Ed Eilert had it right in his March 22 state of the county address, saying, “Mental health care for all Kansans, inside and outside of our county, requires a commitment by the Kansas Legislature to fully fund treatment programs in addressing the needs and services for the mentally ill.”
Under the poor leadership of Gov. Sam Brownback and the Republican-controlled Legislature, Kansas has severe funding problems brought on by irresponsible tax cuts. But for the sake of Kansans with severe mental health needs, lawmakers should plug the financial holes so the state hospitals can provide good security and services.
Expecting a private company to step in and solve the state hospitals’ problems is only asking for more trouble.