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On January 1, 2017, the KHI News Service became part of KCUR public radio’s new initiative, the Kansas News Service. The Kansas News Service will continue to cover health policy news and broaden its scope to include education and politics. All stories produced by the former KHI News Service are archived here. Stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to KHI.org.

Beds at Osawatomie State Hospital likely to reopen later than estimated

By Dave Ranney | October 29, 2015

The moratorium on admissions to Osawatomie State Hospital likely won’t be lifted in November.

“There isn’t a set time frame for when that will be,” Ted Jester, assistant director of mental health services at the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, said during a Wednesday meeting of the Kansas Mental Health Coalition.

Photo by Dave Ranney Ted Jester, assistant director of mental health services at the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, says a moratorium on admissions to Osawatomie State Hospital likely won’t be lifted in November.

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KDADS officials in June capped the 206-bed hospital’s daily census at 146 patients after federal surveyors cited the facility for having too many patients, not having enough staff and not doing enough to protect suicidal patients from hanging themselves.

KDADS had expected to lift the moratorium in late October or mid-November. But Jester said negotiations with federal officials charged with re-inspecting the hospital for adults severe and persistent mental illness have taken longer than anticipated.

To bring the hospital into compliance with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid standards — and to remain eligible for federal funding — KDADS agreed to renovations in all patient rooms, starting with the 60-bed “A Building.”

“The construction, for the most part, is done,” Jester said. “Now, we’re into the process issues, things like: How many people can move in before we’re resurveyed? Or, do they want to survey us first? How many discharge plans will they want to see?”

The inspections are unannounced.

As soon as patients are allowed to move into the “A Building,” Jester said, hospital officials will begin the processes for closing and renovating the 30-bed “B Building.”

Osawatomie State Hospital is the larger of the two state-run inpatient facilities for adults with mental illness. The other state hospital is in Larned. Admissions to both hospitals are limited to patients who have been deemed a danger to themselves or others. Most admissions are court-ordered.

Jester assured the group that KDADS is fully committed to reopening the 60 now-closed beds at Osawatomie.

Several coalition members said Osawatomie State Hospital’s troubles have resulted in some would-be patients being incarcerated.

“The uncertainty about bed space is prompting providers to defer hospitalization for individuals who need acute care when the options for community-based care are not in place,” Rick Cagan, executive director with the Kansas chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, wrote in an email.

“In some cases, individuals are languishing in jails and emergency rooms due to the shortage of beds,” he said.

Discussion of 72-hour holds postponed

In other discussion during the meeting, coalition members expressed support for legislative initiatives aimed at requiring private health insurers and the state’s Medicaid program to cover tobacco cessation treatments, promoting the benefits of the state’s Community Support Medication Program and requiring educators to take a course in suicide awareness and prevention.

The group postponed its discussion of a proposal that would allow treatment facilities to hold people in crisis situations for up to 72 hours as involuntary patients.

Under current law, involuntary patients cannot be held for more than 24 hours — 48 hours on a weekend — without first being taken to court and having a judge decide whether they pose a danger to themselves or others.

“This is an issue that will be considered during the (2016) Legislature in some form or another,” said Amy Campbell, the coalition’s executive director. “The proponents have legislative sponsors, they do intend to move forward with this and they have clear and positive objectives. But the devil is in the details.”

Campbell said she had some “open-ended questions” about how the proposed treatment centers would be licensed and funded and how would-be patients’ civil liberties would be protected.

The proposal, which is still in draft form, is the product of an informal coalition of law enforcement, district court and mental health officials from Wyandotte, Johnson, Douglas and Shawnee counties. The group has been collaborating for about 18 months.

Susan Crain Lewis, president of the coalition’s governing board and chief executive of Mental Health America of the Heartland, a Kansas City-based advocacy group, said she opposes the measure.

“My advocacy organization has a very clear, 100-year-consistent policy against any expansion of involuntary commitment acts, against any potential infringement on civil liberties,” she said.

Mark Wiebe, director of public affairs at Wyandot Inc., the community mental health center in Kansas City, Kan., expressed support for the proposal.

“This is aimed at preventing people from entering the state hospitals and, most importantly, from having to receive their mental health treatment in a jail,” he said.

The proponents are expected to testify Tuesday before the Joint Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice Oversight.