- Associated Press - Thursday, February 18, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback will push for another boost in funding for the state’s two mental hospitals and could propose pay raises of up to 10 percent for some of their workers, a top social services official said.

Legislators from both parties on Thursday said they welcomed the news that the Republican governor is working on proposals to help the Larned and Osawatomie hospitals fill staff vacancies. But they also remained wary of the administration’s interest in exploring whether the Osawatomie hospital should be run by a private company.

The federal government in December decertified the Osawatomie hospital, about 45 miles southwest of Kansas City, costing the state up to $1 million a month in federal funds. It and the Larned hospital in western Kansas had more than 350 open positions at the end of January, a combined vacancy rate of about 38 percent.

Tim Keck, the interim secretary of the Department for Aging and Disability Services, said agency is working aggressively to fill vacancies and make the program changes at Osawatomie necessary to regain federal certification later this year. Keck said this week that the governor and his budget staff expect to have a proposal for additional funding within a few weeks.

“They’ve made a commitment to us that we’ll get what we need,” Keck told The Associated Press.

House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey, a Louisburg Republican, said he’s pleased the administration is focusing on “the cornerstone” of lessening turnover among hospital workers. Sen. Molly Baumgardner, another Louisburg Republican, said it’s “wonderful” to promise additional funds, but she wants more details.

“It’s almost a given they have to do that,” added Rep. Jerry Henry, of Atchison, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

The Legislature this week approved budget legislation that adds a total of $3 million to the hospitals’ budgets. Keck said that’s not enough and that Brownback’s administration is working on a plan to boost funding more.

Brownback is considering pay raises for nurses and mental health technicians, Keck said. The administration estimates that a 10 percent increase at both hospitals would cost $4.2 million a year.

The federal government’s action against the Osawatomie hospital came after a critical survey in November found a “systemic failure” to protect suicidal patients, adequately supervise care and perform required safety checks. The survey noted that an employee reported being raped in October by a patient.

Those problems and staffing issues at both hospitals prompted Reps. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican, and Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, to suggest during a House committee hearing this week that Brownback’s administration had mismanaged the hospitals to justify turning over part or all of their operations to private companies.

Keck and other KDADS officials said the department’s efforts to provide adequate staffing and improve operations show the allegation is unfounded.

“It is just very unfair to all of the efforts that have been made,” Keck said.

For example, the department said it has spent more than $2 million since the start of 2015 on contract labor for Osawatomie, has hired 34 employees there since the start of the year. Its officials said the department also has been overhauling policies and treatment programs at Osawatomie to improve patient care.

Keck told legislators this week that the department is not considering privatization as an option for Larned. He said the department wants to keep the option open for Osawatomie but would first form a study group, involve legislators and take months to even request proposals from interested companies.

Baumgardner said lawmakers need to see a plan showing how such a move would improve care and perhaps decrease costs to be comfortable with the idea.

“We’ve not seen any of that,” she said.



Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services: https://www.kdads.ks.gov/

Kansas Legislature: https://www.kslegislature.org


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

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