KHI News Service

Legislators balk at reopening state hospital beds

Budget negotiators agree to not spend $812,000 to beef up staffing at Rainbow Mental Health Facility

By | April 29, 2011

House and Senate budget negotiators this week tentatively agreed to not fund the reopening of 14 beds at Rainbow Mental Health Facility in Kansas City.

The beds were closed earlier this year after surveyors for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) visited the 50-bed state hospital and declared it understaffed.

Hospital officials said the additional staff needed – nurses, mostly - would cost an additional $812,000 annually.

Earlier, the House approved a budget bill that included that money for the hospital. But the Senate budget plan did not.

House negotiators ceded to the Senate position Thursday, though the conference committee talks are far from complete and are scheduled to resume after the weekend.

“It wasn’t in the governor’s (proposed) budget, and we’re trying to go off the governor’s budget as best we can,” said Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick. “Unfortunately, that means cuts – cuts that we don’t like.”

Rainbow is one of three state hospitals for people with severe mental illness. Patients are not admitted unless they are considered a danger to themselves or others.

The other state mental hospitals are in Osawatomie and Larned.

Rainbow’s catchment area covers eight counties in northeast Kansas, including Leavenworth, Wyandotte, and Johnson counties.

Deputy Tom Erickson, a spokesman for the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, said the loss of beds would lead to more people with mental illness being incarcerated.

“If they can’t go there (Rainbow), it’s only a matter of time before they come here,” Erickson said, referring to the county jail.

“It’s also a big cost shift,” he said. “If they go to Rainbow, the state pays for it. If they’re in jail, the county pays for it.”

Last month, officials at the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, the agency that oversees the hospitals, released a list of programs they would cut if the Legislature ordered a 5 percent spending cut. The list included closing Rainbow.

“That’s my big fear - that after the Legislature goes home, SRS will decide to move money around in its budget and the next thing you know, Rainbow won’t be open at all,” said Sen. Kelly Kultala, D-Kansas City.

“For me, that’s unacceptable,” she said. “These are people who have no place else to go. Osawatomie (State Hospital) is already overcensus, so the only place left is jail. But the jails aren’t equipped to handle mental health issues. And if they’re not in jail, a lot of these people will end up on the street.”

SRS records show that in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2010, Rainbow was over capacity 36 percent of the time; Osawatomie State Hospital, 34 percent; Larned State Hospital, 83 percent.

Rainbow is the smallest of the three hospitals. Licensed capacities at Larned and Osawatomie are 90 and 176 beds, respectively.

Voluntary admissions to Rainbow and the Osawatomie hospital were suspended twice last year because there were already too many patients.

SRS officials said admissions to Rainbow were diverted to the Osawatomie hospital on April 12 and 13 because Rainbow was full.

"Both OSH and Rainbow have been visited by CMS surveyors and they did not find any substantial issues with the care provided by OSH and/or Rainbow. The most recent survey of Rainbow by CMS decided instead of two units at Rainbow there were four units and required us to increase our RN staffing. Instead of increasing our staffing we closed 14 beds and the CMS resurvey was satisfied with the actions we took," SRS spokesman Chet Compton wrote in an email to KHI News Service.

But northeast mental health professionals said they are worried the loss of beds would strain an already burdened system.

“All of this comes on top of community mental health centers having their budgets cut by almost $20 million over the last two or three years and the governor proposing a $15 million cut this year,” said David Wiebe, executive director at the Wyandot Center for Community Behavioral Health in Kansas City. “Community mental health centers are losing their capacity to provide the intense services to keep people out of the state hospitals at the same time we’re losing state hospital beds. That's not a good combination.”