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Osawatomie wing will house Rainbow patients during fire code upgrade

Remodeling of Kansas City mental hospital should take six to eight months

By Mike Shields | October 11, 2011

A currently empty wing at Osawatomie State Hospital will be used to temporarily house many of the patients from Rainbow Mental Health Facility while Rainbow is remodeled to meet fire codes, state lawmakers were told today.

Construction work at the 36-bed, state mental hospital in Kansas City is expected to take six to eight months to complete, said Rob Siedlecki, secretary of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, the agency that oversees the state hospitals.

"We're going to have to dig into our budget and do it," he said.

His remarks were part of an agency update presented today to the Legislature's Joint Committee on Home and Community Based Services Oversight.

SRS officials announced late last week they likely would need to temporarily close Rainbow after the State Fire Marshal's Office last month inspected the facility and found 11 pages' worth of safety citations.

The plan now is to keep the facility open with a few staff on hand able to provide assessments on patients as they are brought in by law enforcement for evaluation and admission. SRS officials said an architect had identified an area of the hospital safe enough that six patients could be kept there overnight during the remodeling.

Osawatomie State Hospital has a 30-bed wing that was previously renovated but never used because staffing for it wasn't funded by the Legislature. Most of the Rainbow staff will work there during the renovations and patients who would have been admitted at Rainbow will be hospitalized there, too, officials said.

Siedlecki said the agency should be able to cover the estimated $575,000 remodeling cost from the agency's current budget thanks to savings expected from new restrictions it has imposed on various welfare programs, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

He also said the agency would cover the costs of transporting patients from Rainbow to Osawatomie during the remodeling that otherwise might be borne by law enforcement agencies or patients' families.

SRS has no plans to update Rainbow beyond fixing the fire code violations, Siedlecki said.

Rainbow, which is one of three state hospitals for the mentally ill, previously had capacity for 50 patients. But 14 beds were closed earlier this year after federal surveyors visited the hospital and concluded it was understaffed.

In response to questions from committee members, Siedlecki said it would cost the agency about $1.4 million to re-open the 50 beds at Rainbow. He said there was no plan to do that, however.

He also was questioned about other recent SRS developments, including the agency's announcement that it planned to offer grants to the state's Early Head Start programs to better promote fatherhood.

Sen Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat and members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, chastized Siedlecki for using the money for a new fatherhood initiative instead of enrolling more children in Early Head Start.

She said told him she thought the Legislature had been clear in its intent that money appropriated for Early Head Start was to be used for direct services to children. There currently is a waiting list for Early Head Start and Kelly wanted to know why the money being earmarked for the new grants wasn't instead being used to enroll more children in the program.

"Maybe we need to get clearer on legislative intent," she said. "Did you not understand that as legislative intent?"

Siedlecki said he thought it was OK to spend the money on the fatherhood initiative as long as it was within the Early Head Start program.

"So, maybe next session we need to be more specific," Kelly said.

Siedlecki nodded in agreement.

Siedlecki and Sara Arif of the Kansas Department on Aging also drew sharp questions from committee members about upcoming changes in policies administered by SRS and the Kansas Department of Aging regarding home-care workers and the payroll agents who hire them on behalf of elderly or disabled Medicaid beneficiaries.

The changes are being driven by shifts in federal Medicaid policy, Arif told committee members.

Rep. Bob Bethell, an Alden Republican, said he had heard from a number of payroll agents who said they were uncertain their contracts with the Department on Aging would be approved before the new policies begin Nov. 1.

He said there was concern that many of the payroll agents would be forced out of work by the changes.

Arif said the agency was aware of the delays in processing the contracts and was working to correct the problem.