State officials have decided to ask members of a committee charged with critiquing the Kansas behavioral health system to continue meeting.
“We don’t want this to be a group that makes recommendations and stops,” said Doug Wallace, housing and homeless specialist at the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services. “We want this to be an action-oriented group.”
Wallace, who had a hand in coordinating Adult Continuum of Care Committee meetings, announced the decision Wednesday during a meeting of Kansas Mental Health Coalition.
It’s not yet clear when or how often the 30-member committee will meet, he said.
The committee, which met five times in May and June, has been dormant since filing its 42-page report with KDADS Secretary Kari Bruffett in July.
In the report, the committee described the state’s mental health system as disjointed, significantly underfunded and overly dependent on the state’s two hospitals for adults with severe and persistent mental illness.
KDADS, Wallace said, hopes to have a “plan of attack” put together prior to the next legislative session.
Among the committee’s recommendations:
- Explore the possibility of expanding Medicaid eligibility in ways that would increase access to mental health treatment.
- Restore the 60 now-closed beds at Osawatomie State Hospital as soon as federally mandated renovations are complete.
- Support rescinding a federal regulation that prevents states from using Medicaid to pay for mental health services in inpatient facilities with more than 16 beds.
- Assess the role of nursing home-type facilities in Kansas that currently care for approximately 900 adults with severe and persistent mental illnesses, many of whom are former state hospital patients.
- Create more crisis intervention-type services throughout the state.
The committee’s recommendations came on the heels of KDADS in June announcing that it had imposed a 146-bed cap on admissions to Osawatomie State Hospital during renovations.
The committee, Wallace said, opted not to take a position on how many beds are needed in the two state-run hospitals — Osawatomie and Larned — because it did not have enough data and because “if we address the needs in the community first, the picture of what the role of the state hospitals would be and how many beds would be needed would be much clearer.”
Sky Westerlund, a coalition member and executive director with the Kansas chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, said the system’s efforts often are hamstrung by high staff turnover among mental health workers.
“There has to be trust, there has to be someone who’s part of the system that a client can trust long-term over time,” Westerlund said. “You don’t get that when you have high turnover.”
Wallace said high staff turnover at the state hospitals and community mental health centers is “definitely an issue that needs to be looked at.”
Earlier this month, Jerry Rea, superintendent at Osawatomie State Hospital, left his position to return to Parsons State Hospital and Training Center, where he’s been superintendent since 2004.
Rea had been superintendent for both hospitals since August 2013. At Osawatomie, he was replaced by John Worley, director of the hospital’s clinical program, who is the hospital’s fourth superintendent in five years.
Parsons State Hospitals and Training Center is one of the two state-run institutions for developmentally disabled adults in Kansas. The other is in Topeka.
Though coalition members welcomed news that KDADS intends to keep the continuum care committee intact, some questioned the department’s resistance to support Medicaid expansion and its decision last month not to apply for a federal grant.
Wallace acknowledged that the committee’s report was the administration’s third critique of the mental health system in the past four years.
Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, a Democrat from Kansas City, told the group that she has been hearing reports that KDADS may significantly alter or not renew its contract with Rainbow Services Inc., the crisis intervention unit that replaced Rainbow Mental Facility, a former 50-bed inpatient facility in Kansas City, Kan.
Johnson and Wyandotte county officials, she said, “keep hearing through the grapevine that RSI’s state funding could be pulled at some point.”
Wallace assured the group that KDADS was committed to providing high-quality care and treatment.
After the meeting, Angela de Rocha, a KDADS spokesperson, declined comment when asked if RSI’s contract was in jeopardy.