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State hospital cited for safety code violations

Rainbow Mental Health Facility may need to be temporarily closed

By Dave Ranney | October 07, 2011

State welfare officials said today that they might have to temporarily close Rainbow Mental Health Facility after the State Fire Marshal’s Office cited the 36-bed state mental hospital for several safety violations.

“We’re still trying to figure out what we’re going to do,” said Angela de Rocha, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, the agency in charge of the facility. “But we’re not going to close it as in ‘it goes away’ or ‘it’s not part of the system anymore.’"

Instead, de Rocha said, the agency is “looking for ways to care for the patients while major renovations are under way.”

The work, she said, would include building “smoke-barrier walls,” enhancing the building’s sprinkler system and adding “fire dampers” to the building’s HVAC system.

“Those are just some of the issues,” de Rocha said. “There are others, including the building footprint which is, in essence, a maze complete with barriers, complicating things if people need to be evacuated.”

The State Fire Marshal’s Office filed 11 pages of citations for fire hazards after an inspector visited the facility last month, de Rocha said.

"The story is that in 2008, the Governor’s Mental Health Planning Council inspected the building and asked for a health and safety study. But the previous administration did not conduct that study. When we took over, we began an assessment of the building’s problems. Then in September, the Kansas State Fire Marshal inspected the building and issued a number of citations having to do with fire hazards," de Rocha said.

Calls by KHI News Service to the State Fire Marshal’s Office went unreturned Friday.

Located in Kansas City, Kan., Rainbow is smallest of the state’s three hospitals for people who are severely mentally ill and are considered a danger to themselves or others.

The other hospitals, in Osawatomie and Larned, have 176- and 90-bed capacities, respectively.

SRS convened a meeting Friday morning with legislators from Wyandotte County and Johnson County to discuss the problems at Rainbow. Among those attending were:

• Sen. Chris Steineger, R-Kansas City;

• Sen. Terrie Huntington, R-Fairway;

• Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, D-Kansas City;

• Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood.

“We met for over two hours,” Colloton said.

Initially, Colloton said, SRS’s plan called for moving Rainbow residents and staff to Osawatomie State Hospital, while asking Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature for an additional $2 million for Rainbow repairs. The hospital would stay closed until lawmakers acted on the request.

But SRS officials, she said, agreed to keep Rainbow open after legislators cited the stress that closure would put on the area’s police departments and emergency rooms.

“(SRS) Secretary (Rob) Siedlecki agreed to defer that decision, and I think he made the correct decision,” Colloton said. “I think it’s very clear that SRS is wanting to do the right thing and I commend them for that.”

Siedelcki, she said, attended the meeting via speaker phone. The meeting was held at the SRS office in Overland Park.

Colloton said she asked SRS to find out if the renovations could be phased in over several weeks or months, allowing the facility to remain open during the remodeling.

If the renovations require closing the hospital, she asked SRS to consider opening a “72-hour crisis stabilization unit” in either Johnson County or Wyandotte County.

“What we don’t want to have happen is for our emergency rooms to get backed up and for people to end up in jail who don’t belong there – who belong in a hospital,” Colloton said.

SRS, she said, has agreed to meet with area hospital officials and law enforcement personnel on Oct. 13.

Earlier this year, SRS closed 14 beds at Rainbow after federal surveyors visited the then-50-bed hospital and declared it understaffed.

Legislators declined to put up the $812,000 needed to hire additional workers.

All three state mental hospitals often exceed their licensed capacities. 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.

Despite the overcrowding, SRS in recent years has proposed closing Rainbow, arguing that moving residents to Osawatomie would be more cost efficient.

Rainbow had 30 patients last week, de Rocha said.

"Our primary concern with this situation is patient safety, above all," she said.