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July 23, 2008
By Dave Ranney
KHI News Service
July 23, 2008
TOPEKA Hoping to avoid cuts in services, state welfare officials have imposed a hiring freeze.
"The number of positions being kept vacant has increased," said Rick Shults, acting director of mental health services at the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.
As of Wednesday, 558 full-time positions at SRS were vacant.
"The number of central office vacancies will be slightly higher than anywhere else," Shults said. "We"re trying to do this as administratively as we can. We"re looking at every possible option for addressing this with the minimum impact on program service delivery."
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius last month directed her cabinet secretaries to begin cutting their departments" State General Fund spending 1 to 2 percent. The reductions are needed to offset shortfalls in revenue collections.
SRS is expected to cut $8.1 million from its budget for fiscal year 2009, which began July 1.
The state"s three hospitals for the mentally ill are expected to cut another $1.3 million from their collective budgets.
The reductions, Shults said, are not expected to affect plans for remodeling and staffing a 30-bed unit at Osawatomie State Hospital or for filling direct-care positions at the hospitals.
Staffing the 30-bed unit, due to open in January, is expected to cost $1.5 million. Legislators also approved 13 additional direct care workers for Osawatomie State Hospital, costing $444,000.
In the past, federal officials have cited the hospital for being understaffed.
Shults met Wednesday with members of the Kansas Mental Health Coalition at the Topeka ' Shawnee County Public Library.
Further cuts, he said, are likely but, as yet, undecided.
"There have been no final decisions," Shults said. "The secretary, the (SRS) executive committee, and the budget staff meet at least weekly to talk about what the options look like and what can be done to minimize the impact on program service delivery."
The decisions, he said, will be announced by Sept. 15, the deadline for departments filing their proposed budgets with the Division of Budget.
Shults said the agency"s proposed budget for fiscal 2010, in keeping with the governor"s directive, will include options for cutting an additional 5 percent an additional $23.3 million for SRS, including $3.4 million from the state hospital budgets.
These cuts, too, have not been decided and, he said, are not being taken lightly.
"Clearly, the instructions from the secretary are that that if we put something in the "reduced resources budget," we are to, first, have an objective understanding of what the impact will be and, second, that if it"s approved by either the governor or the Legislature, we"ll be able to carry it out," Shults said.
About 15 members of the mental health coalition attended the meeting.
"All of us have concerns about all the vacancies that"s a constant problem," said Amy Campbell, a spokeswoman for the coalition. "But we"re pleased to hear that SRS is taking a slow, deliberative approach to this rather than putting something together in two weeks.
"The longer they take, the better," she said.
-Dave Ranney is a staff writer for KHI News Service, which specializes in coverage of health issues facing Kansans. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 785-233-5443, ext. 128.