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April 30, 2012
TOPEKA The House Appropriations Committee today approved a proposal to spend an additional $1.9 million at Larned State Hospital.
“This will help the hospital deal with some of the concerns having to do with maintaining proper staffing levels and reducing some of the overtime that some of the employees are having to put in,” said Rep. David Crum, an Augusta Republican and chair of the House Social Services Budget Committee. He also serves on the Appropriations Committee.
Larned State Hospital is one of three state-run hospitals for the mentally ill. It also houses the state’s treatment program for sexual predators. The added money would bring the hospital's total proposed budget to $63.5 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
During an accreditation survey last month, the hospital was cited for being understaffed and related problems. As a result, the facility’s accreditation is in jeopardy.
The $1.9 million proposal, initiated by Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget office, was added to the committee’s omnibus budget bill, which is expected to reach the House floor later this week.
The committee’s counterpart in the Senate last week agreed to mention the proposal during the upper chamber’s budget debate, which is expected to start this week as well.
The proposal calls for spending about $940,000 on pay raises for the hospital’s nurses, and $993,000 on 23 new direct care positions.
According to the survey, 27 percent of the hospital’s 76 registered nurse positions are vacant and 44 percent of the 27 licensed practical nurse positions are vacant.
Rep. Bill Feuerborn, a Garnett Democrat and the committee’s ranking minority member, objected to the proposal being limited to Larned State Hospital, saying the state hospital in Osawatomie has similar troubles.
“We’ve had reports that Osawatomie (State Hospital) is over census 33 percent of the time,” Feuerborn said. “I see us addressing the situation in Larned, I don’t see us addressing the situation in Osawatomie. I guess this is all based on priorities.”
Several Osawatomie State Hospital employees live in Feuerborn’s district.
“This proposal doesn’t seem very well thought out to me,” he said. “I guess it helps to be in a crisis.”
“Our needs at Larned are more immediate,” he told KHI News Service. “We’ll be addressing the concerns at the other state hospitals over the summer and we’ll have something in place for next year’s budget (deliberations). But at this point in time, we need to be aggressive in dealing with the staffing issues at Larned.”
Crum also introduced an amendment to allow Larned State Hospital to fill the 20 positions it expects to need to run a 30-bed expansion of its 190-bed forensic unit.
The committee approved the 30-bed expansion last week.
Initially, the governor’s office had proposed adding two 30-bed units and 47 employees to the hospital’s Sexual Predator Treatment Program.
The committee instead agreed to open one 30-bed unit for sexual predators and one 30-bed unit for forensic evaluations.
Crum said his amendment to add 20 employees to the 47 proposed by the administration became necessary after learning that running a forensic unit requires more workers than a comparable-size unit for sex predators.
“It’s more complicated,” he said. "It requres more people."
The 47 additional employees are expected to cost the state about $1.3 million. It’s unclear how much the 20 positions tied to Crum’s amendment would cost.
The forensic unit at Larned State Hospital is charged with conducting competency evaluations for people who’ve been accused of committing a crime and who are thought to be seriously mentally ill.
In Kansas, at least 40 defendants are known to be in county jails, waiting on openings in the forensic unit.
Crum’s amendment passed. A similar amendment has yet to be introduced in the Senate.
Earlier, Pawnee County Attorney John Settle testified in favor of adding 60 beds to the forensic unit.
“For a small county like us, keeping a defendant in limbo while his or her mental status is determined is very expensive because we don’t have any way to shift the costs,” Settle said. “We had one person last year who waited for over a year for an evaluation. That individual’s medications alone cost the county $40,000.”
Larned is in Pawnee County.
The KHI News Service is an editorially independent initiative of the Kansas Health Institute and is committed to timely, objective and in-depth coverage of health issues and the policy making environment. Find more about the News Service at khi.org/newsservice or contact us at (785) 783-2529.