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Oct. 27, 2009
TOPEKA A panel charged with figuring out how to run state institutions more efficiently voted Tuesday to not recommend closing the Rainbow Mental Health Facility in Kansas City.
Instead, the 10-member Facilities Closure and Realignment Commission recommended that the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services consider opening a 30-bed unit in either Wichita or Topeka.
If that proved feasible, a 30-bed unit at Osawatomie State Hospital could be closed, commissioners concluded.
The vote to leave the Rainbow Mental Health Facility intact was unanimous.
Earlier, commission members had considered merging Rainbow Mental Health Facility’s 50 beds with the 176 beds at Osawatomie State Hospital and selling the facility’s acreage, which is near the University of Kansas Medical Center.
During the meeting Tuesday, no one mentioned selling the property.
Several commission members expressed support for replicating Rainbow Mental Health Facility in other parts of the states, allowing people with severe mental illnesses to receive services in or nearer their communities.
“We need services that are closer to home,” said commission member Liz Kinch.
Though Rainbow Mental Health Facility’s catchment area includes 10 counties in northeast Kansas, most of its patients are from Johnson and Wyandotte counties.
Kinch, a former Wichita legislator, said it’s “very distasteful” for the state to expect someone in Wichita to drive almost three hours to Osawatomie to take part in a mentally ill family member’s recovery.
Kinch said she’d had first-hand experience in dealing with a mentally ill relative.
Commission members said the state cannot afford to close a unit at Osawatomie State Hospital because the hospital often exceeds its licensed capacity.
“It’s the safety net,” said commission member Mike Hammond, who’s also executive director at the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas. “It has to be there. Without it, there’s nowhere else to go.”
SRS Secretary Don Jordan welcomed the recommendation but warned that in the past, public and private hospitals throughout the state have balked at taking mentally ill patients whose behaviors threatened other patients’ safety.
Jordan said all but a handful of the patients at Osawatomie State Hospital and Rainbow Mental Health Facility were there because they were a danger to others. Most, he said, were involuntary committals.
Jordan said it wouldn’t make sense to open a unit elsewhere in the state if the unit wouldn’t take patients who, otherwise, would end up in one of the state hospitals.
“It would have to be ‘no eject, no reject,’” Jordan said.
SRS, he said, could not put itself in a position of opening a unit that would not relieve overcrowding at the state hospitals.
“There wouldn’t be any savings,” Jordan said.
Created in Late March by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, the commission was charged with figuring out whether money can be saved by closing or reconfiguring Rainbow Mental Health Facility; Osawatomie State Hospital; Parsons State Hospital; Kansas School for the Deaf, Olathe; Kansas School for the Blind, Kansas City; and Beloit Juvenile Correctional Facility.
The commission’s final recommendations on the various facilities are due Dec. 1, 2009.
The recommendations — assuming they are approved by Gov. Mark Parkinson — would take effect July 1, 2010 unless overturned by a majority in either the House or Senate.
Commission members are not expected to meet in November; instead, they plan to review drafts of their final recommendations via e-mail.
Downsize, close KNI
On Monday, commission members voted to recommend downsizing both Kansas Neurological Institute and Parsons State Hospital. Eventually, KNI residents who could not be moved to community-based settings within three to four years would be moved to Parsons State Hospital. KNI, in turn, would be closed.
Other commission recommendations:
• Take steps to make sure that money that would have been spent on KNI is set aside to support home and community based services for the developmentally disabled.
• Consolidate the administrations at the state-run schools for deaf and blind children.
• Close the Kansas Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Topeka.
If adopted, Chronister said, the recommendations could cut state general fund spending by about $6.5 million.
“I think that’s important,” she said, “but that’s not the point of what went on today — what went on today was a reinforcement of the commitment to community based services that are closer to home. If we’re going to be serious about being efficient and doing what’s right, then this should be our battle plan.”
Parkinson may adopt, modify or reject the commission’s recommendations.
-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.