KHI News Service

Committee starts review of state’s behavioral health system

By Dave Ranney | June 04, 2015

A committee charged with critiquing the state’s behavioral health system on Thursday met for a four-hour discussion on needed improvements.

“We need to be looking at providing intensive treatment to people who need it and when they need it,” said Wes Cole, a member of the Adult Continuum of Care Committee who also is chairman of the Governor’s Behavioral Health Services Planning Council. “We need to keep moving forward.”

After breaking into small groups, many of the committee’s 30 members raised concerns about reports of the state-run hospitals either not admitting people known to be in mental health crisis situations or sending them home before they’re stable.

In recent years, federal surveyors have cited the state hospitals in Larned and Osawatomie for being overcrowded and understaffed and for not doing enough to ensure proper medical care.

The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services last month announced plans for suspending admissions to Osawatomie State Hospital whenever the facility had more than 146 patients.

The would-be moratorium is driven by the 206-bed hospital needing to renovate its patient rooms after federal officials cited the facility for not doing enough to prevent suicidal patients from hanging themselves.

As of yet, the Osawatomie hospital’s census has remained below the 146-patient threshold. The moratorium has not been enforced. On Thursday, the hospital was caring for 134 patients. Its census reached 145 after the Memorial Day weekend.

Generally, admissions to the state hospital are limited to patients who have been deemed a danger to themselves or others.

Other concerns that committee members raised during the Thursday meeting:

  • The state’s mental health system is significantly underfunded.
  • It’s unrealistic to expect community-based programs, all of which are already “stretched thin,” to do more without additional support.
  • Many of the state’s reform efforts are hampered by a persistent shortage of psychiatrists, especially in rural areas.
  • Staff turnover at KDADS, too, has stalled reform discussions.
  • Communication between the state hospitals and the community mental health centers is often strained or lacking.
  • It’s not unusual for patients who in years past would have been admitted to one of the state hospitals to now spend one or two days in their local hospital’s emergency room.
  • The system has been slow in adopting policies that promote trauma-informed care.

Bill Rein, superintendent of state hospitals at KDADS, welcomed the often-frank discussion.

“We’re trying to really drill down into the details,” Rein said. “We’re wanting to find out where the breaks are and what we can to fix them so that we can achieve what Kansans have always wanted, and that’s a continuum of care that we can all agree on and that we can all work together on.”

The committee members, who were appointed by KDADS Secretary Kari Bruffett, will meet again on June 18 and July 2. The group’s recommendations will be finalized during a July 16 meeting.

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