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Critics say it is time to reform the reforms

By Dave Ranney | November 30, 2006

By Dave Ranney
KHI News Service

TOPEKA, Nov. 30 Less than 10 years after major reforms were launched, Kansas" mental health system once again faces profound problems.

The remaining state mental hospitals bulge at the seams. Funding for inpatient care doesn"t begin to cover costs. Gaps in the safety net are widening.

Worse still: No one seems to be doing anything about the mounting problems.

That"s the view of Dr. Roy Menninger, a former president and CEO of the famous Menninger psychiatric clinic.

"The pendulum has swung too far," Menninger said Wednesday at a meeting of the Kansas Mental Health Coalition.

Menninger asked Ray Dalton, Deputy Secretary of Health Policy at the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, if he and SRS Secretary Gary Daniels were willing to rethink their current "vision" of what mental health services in Kansas should be.

Dalton assured the gathering a group of about 20 advocates and program directors that he and Daniels were aware of the system"s shortcomings.

"He understands that," Dalton said, referring to Daniels. "That"s the challenge he"s given me."

Amy Campbell, a lobbyist for the coalition, asked Dalton if SRS intended to fight for mental health issues during the 2007 legislative session.

"It"s my sense the agency will," Dalton said, noting that SRS has proposed increasing Osawatomie State Hospital"s budget for 2007.

Asked if that meant the hospital would be adding beds, Dalton said most of the money was needed to pay overtime and hire additional staff.

"It"s not to add beds," Dalton said.

Mary Ellen Conlee, a lobbyist representing Via Christi Health System, warned that group that a dispute over funding has pushed Via Christi"s hospitals in Wichita to the brink of closing their inpatient psychiatric units to involuntary admissions.

Each admission, she said, costs the hospitals about $790 a day. But it is being reimbursed only $130 a day by the state"s mental health system.

"We"re got to get really serious about this," Conlee said, noting that a sizable portion of the involuntary patients are likely to end up in jail or in one of the state hospitals.

Shelley Duncan, president and CEO at United Methodist Youthville, said the state"s mental health system often shortchanges children in foster care.

"What we have in place right now is chaotic," she said.

Planned changes in the state"s Medicaid reimbursement scheme, she said, are likely to exacerbate the mental health system"s shortcomings.

Coalition members vowed to make lawmakers aware of the problems during the 2007 legislative session.

Dalton agreed to attend the coalition"s Dec. 20 meeting at the Topeka Public Library.

Dave Ranney is a staff writer for KHI News Service, which specializes in coverage of health issues facing Kansans. He can be reached at dranney@khi.org or at 785-233-5443, ext. 128.