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Originally published Aug. 17, 2012 at 7:50 p.m., updated Aug. 18, 2012 at 10:56 a.m.
TOPEKA A crew of Kansas Department of Health and Environment inspectors spent much of this week investigating complaints filed by patients in the state’s Sexual Predator Treatment Program at Larned State Hospital.
The eight surveyors arrived at the hospital Monday and departed Thursday, according to KDHE officials.
Tim Keck, deputy chief counsel at KDHE, said the complaints were considered “routine” and were unrelated to an earlier survey that cited the hospital for not having enough nurses and for not doing enough to ensure that medications were safely dispensed.
Keck said the inspection also was unrelated to the recent death of Robert Boatright, a 57-year-old patient in the Sexual Predator Treatment Program.
The earlier survey, completed in March by The Joint Commission, turned up problems that would put the hospital’s accreditation – and potentially $14.5 million in federal aid – in jeopardy if not corrected by the time surveyors return.
According to the Joint Commission report, 27 percent of the hospital’s registered nurse positions and 44 percent of the licensed practical nurse positions were vacant.
Because of staffing shortages, hospital officials have acknowledged that nurses and direct care workers often are required to work 12- and 16-hour shifts.
The Joint Commission is a national organization that accredits hospitals. Its surveyors are expected to return for an unannounced inspection by Sept. 27.
Keck said KDHE policies called for an annual inspection of the Sexual Predator Treatment Program’s overall operations. He said the department also tries to conduct an annual review of patient complaints.
Keck said his office sent surveyors to the Sexual Predator Treatment Program this week after realizing the complaints, none of which were considered “major,” had not been reviewed “for a number of years.”
“This is a population that makes complaints on a regular basis,” he said. “We’re really not in a position to respond to every complaint every time one is filed, but we do try to look into them once a year. When we found out that hadn’t happened in a while, we arranged to have some inspectors go out there. It needs to be done.”
Keck said complaints that are considered “major” are subject to a “much quicker” review process.
Most of the complaints now under review, he said, involved purported lack of cleanliness and other housekeeping issues.
Keck said the survey’s findings would be made public, noting that “if there’s a problem,” KDHE would request corrective action.
Historically, the Sexual Predator Treatment Program, launched in 1994, has had its facilities licensed through KDHE. Until this year, the program was run by the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. It’s now administered by the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services.
Keck said The Joint Commission survey was limited to the hospital’s inpatient psychiatric unit and did not involve the Sexual Predator Treatment Program.
Rick Cagan, executive director with the Kansas Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said his office had received several calls about conditions at both the hospital and the Sexual Predator Treatment Program.
“I think it’s pretty clear the hospital has a big HR (Human Resources) problem and morale is really low because they’re so understaffed and people are having to put in so much overtime,” Cagan said. “There are just a ton of health and safety issues that need to be addressed. The place is a time bomb.”
Last month, KDADS announced that starting pay for the hospital’s registered nurses had been increased from $23.31 to $29.73 an hour in an effort to attract and retain nurses.
Since then, the hospital has put a single office in charge of coordinating nursing schedules throughout the hospital. Before, each unit handled its own scheduling.
“We went live on the 6th of August,” said Thomas Kinlen, the hospital’s interim superintendent. “There are definitely some growing pains, but we’re working on them, we’re listening to our nursing staff. We’re trying make it so they can focus more on patient care and not so much on managing schedules.”
The hospital’s licensed practical nurses are represented by the Kansas Organization of State Employees, a labor union.
“Right now, the ‘master scheduler’ is a mess,” said KOSE Executive Director Mike Marvin. “But they’ve been talking with us about it, and it looks like once they get the bugs worked out it’ll be better.”
Marvin said KOSE and KDADS were negotiating a pay raise for the hospital’s licensed practical nurses. He declined further comment.
A man who has been a patient in the Sexual Predator Treatment Program for the past 13 years said Boatright died shortly after being taken to the emergency room at Pawnee Valley Community Hospital in Larned.
The man, whose name is withheld here at the request of state officials, said complaints from patients about conditions at the hospital have long been ignored.
“This place is an absolute disaster,” he said. “It’s a zoo. But you know what? The public doesn’t care. KDHE isn’t going to do anything; The Joint Commission isn’t going to do anything. Nobody cares. I don’t know why they don’t just give us all the death penalty.”
Kinlen and other state officials declined comment on Boatright’s death.