- Associated Press - Friday, November 18, 2016

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - A Kansas agency is seeking bids from private contractors to run the troubled Osawatomie State Hospital, which lost federal certification a year ago over safety issues.

The Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services issued a request for proposals on Monday to operate the mental health facility about 45 miles southwest of Kansas City.

Its certification was pulled after a critical survey last 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.

The facility has been losing $500,000 to $1 million per month in federal funds since it was decertified.

KDADS Secretary Tim Keck suggested earlier this year that the state should explore alternatives to the facility, which is one of two mental hospitals in the state.

“It’s not so much that’s the way we necessarily want to go, but we want to consider all options and see if there aren’t some better models,” Keck told The Associated Press on Friday.

Osawatomie and Larned State Hospital are perpetually short-staffed, despite budget increases aimed at raising salaries and reducing operational shortcomings.

Those problems at both hospitals prompted two state representatives - one from each party - to suggest in February that Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration had mishandled the hospitals to justify turning over their operations to private companies.

Rep. Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat who along with Republican Rep. Scott Schwab questioned the administration’s motives, on Friday called the RFP disappointing, especially since other privatized programs, including Medicaid and foster care services, are having serious problems.

Keck has insisted that his department has no plans to consider privatizing Larned and just wants to keep its options open on Osawatomie.

“I have virtually no doubt in my mind that come January or February they will have a proposal to privatize the state hospital,” Ward said. “There’s no suspense, they’re going to do it.”

Not convinced of the need to privatize, lawmakers passed a measure requiring approval from the Legislature before any such change can take place.

Under the RFP issued Monday, a contractor would assume responsibility for providing at least 206 inpatient beds, with a minimum of 94 to remain at Osawatomie. Keck said his department wanted to make the RFP as broad as possible to attract the most responses.

“Part of the reason we’re looking at privatization is because the model we’ve been following hasn’t worked very well,” he said.


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