- Associated Press - Thursday, April 21, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Two Kansas legislative committees Thursday approved Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposals to provide an additional $17 million to the state’s two mental hospitals, partly for employee pay raises and to offset lost federal funds.

The extra funds to be provided over the next 15 months also would pay for treatment beds for the mentally ill in private hospitals so that it can continue to hold down the number of patients at Osawatomie State Hospital, about 45 miles southwest of the Kansas City area.

Both Osawatomie and Larned State Hospital in western Kansas have struggled with staffing vacancies, particularly for nurses. Legislators’ concerns intensified after the federal government in December decertified Osawatomie over a report that an employee was raped by a patient in October and other safety issues.

The state Department for Aging and Disability Services hopes to regain federal certification for Osawatomie by July, and part of the extra spending would cover costs associated with the effort. Until it happens, the state is losing up to $1 million a month in federal funds.

The decisions of the House Appropriations Committee and Senate Ways and Means Committee mean both chambers will consider the spending next week as a part of broader budget legislation.

“There’s a commitment to fund our mental hospitals,” said Senate committee Chairman Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican.

The committee’s voice votes came only three days after the department’s interim secretary, Tim Keck, outlined the measures for a joint legislative oversight committee. Spokeswoman Angela de Rocha said the department appreciates the committees’ quick work because, “It is badly needed.”

Though the department has been working for weeks to fill vacancies at both hospitals, nearly 350 positions, or 25 percent, remained vacant as of last week.

The proposals would cover pay raises at Osawatomie of 10 percent for registered nurses and 12 percent for mental health technicians. At Larned, mental health technicians would receive a 2.5 percent pay raise.

The package also includes $7.8 million to offset lost federal funds, the bulk of them at Osawatomie. The Larned hospital also lost some funds in recent months when the federal government questioned how it calculated its costs in the past and withheld dollars going forward.

Brownback also sought nearly $1.3 million to pay consultants who are helping with the efforts to regain federal certification for Osawatomie. The private hospital beds would cost $3.9 million.

The latter spending is necessary because Osawatomie last year dropped its patient capacity from 206 to 146 to accommodate renovations demanded by the federal government to minimize patient suicide risks. KDADS hasn’t decided when it might go back to the larger capacity.

Sen. Caryn Tyson, a Parker Republican, said the additional spending on private hospital beds shows the need to return Osawatomie to its former capacity.

“We absolutely could use the 60 beds, and the sooner we can get them online, the better,” Tyson said.


Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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