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Aug. 26, 2009
TOPEKA State officials are exploring the possibility of letting a private entity replace the services now provided by the children’s unit at Larned State Hospital.
“We’ve put out an RFP (request for proposal), it’s there for everybody to take a look at,” said Rick Shults, director of mental health services at the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.
Shults, who met Wednesday with members of the Kansas Mental Health Coalition, said he did not know how many organizations are interested in bidding on the contract to provide the services.
“That’s something we’re very interested in finding out,” he said.
In May, SRS officials proposed privatizing the services now provided by the state in the 20-bed unit as a way to cut costs, free up beds for adults, and move away from treating children in large institutional settings.
In 2007, SRS closed its 20-bed children’s unit at Rainbow Mental Health Facility in Kansas City after contracting with KVC Behavioral HealthCare’s psychiatric unit in rural Wyandotte County.
KVC Behavioral Health has expressed interest in also bidding on the Larned unit replacement contract. Would-be bidders have until Sept. 30 to respond to the RFP.
Osawatomie State Hospital does not have a children’s unit.
Several coalition members asked for assurances that privatizing the Larned unit would not result in diminished services for children in western Kansas.
Shults said SRS is intent on the new services being “equal to or better than” those now available at Larned State Hospital.
SRS, he said, also has “a real interest” in seeing a children’s unit open in Wichita, which is now in Larned State Hospital’s catchment area.
Whether the RFP will lead to facilities in western Kansas and in Wichita remains to be seen.
“It really is too premature to speculate,” Shults said.
Bidders would be required to treat all children referred to them.
• Several coalition members expressed concern that the national health reform debate has not included enough discussion about expanding access to mental health services.
• Keys for Networking Executive Director Jane Adams said her office had received calls from parents of 73 emotionally disturbed children who have been “kicked out of school” in the past 10 days.
“This is a huge issue,” Adams said.
• A few members agreed to help coordinate the coalition’s advocacy day during next year’s legislative session. Though doubts were raised about the event’s effectiveness, Amy Campbell, coalition director, assured the group that without it, “75 percent of the legislators” would not be exposed to mental health issues.
The next coalition meeting is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Sept. 23 at Valeo Behavioral Health Center, 330 SW Oakley, Topeka.
-Dave Ranney is a staff writer for KHI News Service, which specializes in coverage of health issues facing Kansans. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 785-233-5443, ext. 128.