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Commission votes to close KNI and downsize Parsons

Some members said they couldn't go with closing a facility unless money was then made available for community programs

By Dave Ranney | October 26, 2009

The Facilities Closure and Realignment Commission voted Monday to recommend closing Kansas Neurological Institute.

KNI, located in Topeka, is one of two state-run hospitals for people with severe developmental disabilities. The other is Parsons State Hospital.

The recommendation calls for downsizing both institutions. Eventually, KNI residents who cannot be moved to community-based settings would be moved to Parsons State Hospital.

Kansas Department of Social and rehabilitation Services Secretary Don Jordan said he thought the closing would take three to four years.

Seven of the commission’s 10 members voted for the recommendation; three against.

Rep. Nile Dillmore, D-Wichita, voted against the recommendation, calling it “unconscionable” because it put hospital residents’ needs ahead of those who have spent years on waiting lists for services in their communities.

“We’re telling people who’ve been waiting all this time to move to the back of the line,” Dillmore said.

Commission member Mike Hammond also voted against the recommendation. He said he preferred to let “the system and its stakeholders” decide which institution, over time, should be closed.

Hammond said he preferred that both hospitals remain open, serving as a safety net for residents who are unsuccessful in community settings.

In earlier testimony, SRS officials said closing KNI would likely save the state $5.7 million annually.

Sen. Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg, also a commission member, said the state wouldn’t save money by merely downsizing the hospitals.

Advocates for community based programs have warned that if the $5.7 million in savings is not shifted to community programs, it will be difficult to create openings for hospital residents.

Rep. Bob Bethell, R-Alden, proposed combining the state hospitals’ budgets with those for home and community based services. That arrangement, he said, would ensure that any savings would be used to expand services instead of padding the state general fund.

Bethell’s proposal also called for closing both institutions. It died on a 5-5 vote.

Bethell is vice chairman the Joint Committee on Home and Community Based Services Oversight. He said he would push for the funding assurances when the commission reconvenes at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

“If that money doesn’t stay in the system this isn’t going the work,” Bethell told KHI News Service.

Dillmore said he had “zero confidence” in the Legislature’s willingness to fund the services needed to close KNI.

“I’m not voting to close either hospital,” Dillmore said.

Several commission members expressed support for closing KNI, noting that similar concerns arose – and were resolved -- prior to closing Winfield State Hospital in 1996.

Commission member Liz Kinch compared conditions at Winfield State Hospital to a prison.

Jordan assured the panel that hospital residents would not be moved to a community setting unless the services were comparable to those in the hospital.

Both hospitals, he said, have identified 111 residents – 49 at KNI, 62 at Parsons State Hospital – who are ready to move to a community setting, if the funding were available.

Currently, KNI has 157 residents; Parson State Hospital has 191.

Created by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, the commission is charged with figuring out whether money can be saved by closing or reconfiguring KNI, Parsons State Hospital; Rainbow Mental Health Facility, Kansas City; Kansas School for the Deaf, Olathe; Kansas School for the Blind, Kansas City; and Beloit Juvenile Correctional Facility.

The commission’s final recommendations on the various facilities are due Dec. 1, 2009.

The recommendations – assuming they are approved by Gov. Mark Parkinson – would take effect July 1, 2010 unless overturned by a majority in either the House or Senate.

The commission on Monday also recommended closing the Kansas Rehabilitation Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Most of the center’s services are either available and could be made available in communities.

The commission is expected to spend much of Tuesday discussing Rainbow Mental Health Facility