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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.

New behavioral health hospital opening in Olathe

By Dan Margolies, Dave Ranney | September 28, 2015

New behavioral health hospital opening in Olathe
Photo by Maria Carter/KCUR Cottonwood Springs Hospital, a 72-bed behavioral health facility, opens this week in Olathe.

A 72-bed, private behavioral health hospital opens its doors this week in Olathe amid growing demand for mental health and substance abuse services in an era of uncertain government support.  

Cottonwood Springs Hospital is the 12th behavioral health hospital built or under construction by Springstone Inc., a for-profit company founded in 2010 in Louisville, Ky., and backed by venture capital.

The 60,000-square-foot facility, which cost upward of $15 million to build, is west of the busy Interstate 35 corridor and north of 135th Street. It will offer inpatient and outpatient services for people age 12 and over with mental illness or addiction issues.

Springstone focuses on serving communities that lack adequate numbers of treatment facilities. Jason Toalson, the hospital’s 39-year-old CEO, said the company chose this part of the country because it’s the nation’s 14th most underserved market.

“I think Springstone chose Olathe for a lot of different reasons, but mostly because this area is one of the most under-bedded areas in the U.S.,” Toalson said in an interview last week.

“If you think about where all the growth has been in this area, it’s really south of (Interstate) 435, and there hasn’t really been any psychiatric hospitals that have grown over here,” he said.

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nearly a quarter of all adult stays in U.S. community hospitals involve depressive, bipolar, schizophrenia and other mental health disorders or substance use-related disorders.

Cottonwood Springs so far has hired around 60 doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers, technicians and other staff, with plans to eventually ramp up to 140 full-time employees.

Growing need

The hospital’s opening comes on the heels of Truman Medical Centers’ decision to close its behavioral health emergency department near downtown Kansas City, Mo., which Truman said had served about 30,000 patients in the past six years. Truman CEO Charlie Shields said regulators told the hospital to staff and equip it as a regular, full-service emergency department, which Shields said was not feasible.

Meanwhile, in Kansas, the two state-operated hospitals for people with mental illness – Osawatomie State Hospital and Larned State Hospital – are struggling, triggering concerns about the adequacy of the safety net for those who need intensive, inpatient care.

State officials limited voluntary admissions at Osawatomie late last year after federal inspectors cited it for having too many patients and inadequate staffing levels, and for not doing enough to protect potentially suicidal patients.

The Brownback administration has awarded grants to community-based mental health programs in Shawnee and Sedgwick counties after successfully converting the Rainbow Mental Health Facility, once a 50-bed state-run hospital in Kansas City, Kan., to a 22-bed crisis-intervention facility that opened in April 2014.

But mental health advocates say too many people with serious and persistent mental illnesses are winding up in jail or in a state hospital because they have nowhere else to go. Julie Solomon, chief strategic management officer at Wyandot Mental Health Center, said recently that an average of 65 of the center’s patients are known to be in the county jail in any given month.

Shortage of services

The Cottonwood Springs opening should relieve some of the strain on the mental health system in Kansas and Missouri.

“Across the nation, there’s long been a shortage of psychiatric services for the general population, and that’s certainly the case here in Johnson County,” said Rennie Shuler-McKinney, director of clinical services at Shawnee Mission Medical Center, which has a 42-bed inpatient unit.

“The Kansas City area has lost so many over the last 10 years, and now, many times, area hospitals are at capacity and needing to find another location for patients,” Shuler-McKinney said. “So we believe the addition of beds at Cottonwood Springs will benefit the community.”

Sally Schneider, administrative director of behavioral health services at Stormont-Vail HealthCare in Topeka, welcomed news of the Cottonwood Springs opening. “We’ll be very supportive of them,” she said. “I’m sure we’ll be collaborating with them because there’s such a shortage of inpatient specialty care beds in Kansas. This will help.”

The Stormont-Vail unit has 32 beds for adults, 20 for children and 12 for seniors.

Not turning patients away

Toalson, Cottonwood Springs CEO, said his hospital has signed a contract with Kansas Health Solutions, which is managing the bed-space issue at Osawatomie, to take patients diverted from Osawatomie.

Photo by Cottonwood Springs Hospital Jason Toalson, 39, CEO of Cottonwood Springs Hospital, previously headed behavioral health hospitals in Dallas.

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“If patients need psychiatric treatment, we're not turning patients away,” he said. “If they come to our hospital and they require psychiatric services, as long as they meet the criteria for an inpatient admission, then we always do what's best for the patient. Finances do not play a role in that decision.”

Toalson said Cottonwood Springs will take involuntary as well as voluntary admissions.

“That’s not to say that some of them won't go to Osawatomie, because they absolutely will if they’re not appropriate for our location. But if they are appropriate, we’re actually going to seek involuntary admissions,” he said.

The Olathe hospital will open with 36 beds and eventually grow to 72. Twelve beds will be devoted to patients with co-occurring or dual disorders – that is, patients who have both mental health and substance abuse problems – 12 will be reserved as adult mental health beds and 12 will be reserved for Osawatomie patients diverted to Cottonwood Springs.

The hospital will accept both insured and non-insured patients.

Toalson, who previously headed two behavioral health hospitals in Dallas, said the Cottonwood Springs admission board – which keeps track of its patient appointments – was nearly full in anticipation of its opening Tuesday.

“The community has already taken great interest as far as what we provide from a psychiatric stability standpoint,” he said. “So that first day we’re going to be very, very busy.”