The Kansas Legislature will have to approve any plans to privatize the state’s two mental health hospitals after Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill that limits a state agency’s ability to go it alone.
Brownback’s office announced Wednesday morning that he had signed 17 bills over the previous two days. Among them was Senate Bill 449, which largely deals with procedural changes in how the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services licenses certain health care facilities.
Lawmakers added language to the bill forbidding KDADS from privatizing Osawatomie State Hospital and Larned State Hospital without legislative approval. During the session, some legislators said they hadn’t been consulted about plans to build a new power plant for the statehouse complex and wanted to avoid a similar situation.
Osawatomie and Larned are the state’s two hospitals for mental health patients deemed a danger to themselves or others.
Osawatomie lost its Medicare certification — and about $1 million per month in federal payments — late last year due to concerns about patient safety, and Larned has dealt with staffing shortages for years.
Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican, said earlier this session that KDADS still could explore the option of privatizing, but legislators should approve any deal.
“You have the tools to look at privatization,” he said. “This doesn’t prevent you from doing the (request for information.)”
KDADS officials initially objected to the idea of limiting the option to privatize. Tim Keck, interim secretary of KDADS, described it as “taking an arrow out of our quiver.”
“We need to have as many options as possible to do right by patients,” he said in February.
Angela de Rocha, a spokeswoman for KDADS, said Wednesday that the department has no intention of pursuing privatization without legislative approval, so the bill signing won’t affect its plans for the state hospitals. She previously said its first priority would be to get Osawatomie recertified.
The final bill appeared to address some of the concerns raised by KDADS Deputy Secretary Kelly Ludlum, who said the state hospitals already outsource some functions, such as food services. The law would allow KDADS to renew contracts that existed in early March or to contract with a new provider to offer services in “substantially the same form as an existing agreement.”
Other health-related bills Brownback signed Wednesday:
- Senate Bill 366, which will prohibit local units of government from requiring restaurants, retail food stores or vending machines to post nutrition information.
- Senate Bill 418, which allows families experiencing a temporary crisis to place their children with a host family without relinquishing parental rights.