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SRS closing 14 beds at Rainbow Mental Health Facility

While strains on the state's MH system continue to grow

By Dave Ranney | February 14, 2011

State welfare officials on Monday announced they plan to close 14 beds at Rainbow Mental Health Facility in Kansas City.

Ray Dalton, deputy secretary of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, said the move was necessary because in December, federal surveyors visited the 50-bed hospital and found it understaffed.

“What they said, essentially, was that we were staffed for two units when, based on the layout of the facility, we should have been staffed for four units,” Dalton said, testifying before the Senate Ways and Means Subcommittee on State Hospitals.

Hospital officials appealed the finding, Dalton said, but were unsuccessful.

Appeal denied

“We were told by CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicare Services) last week that our appeal had been denied,” he said. “We’re waiting on written notification to that effect, but we know it’s coming.”

To be in compliance, Dalton said, Rainbow would have had to spend $812,000 on additional nursing staff.

Dalton said he knew SRS wouldn’t be able to find that much money in its budget; consequently, the beds will be closed.

The plan is to close the beds “sometime in March,” he said.

Sen. Jean Schodorf

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Rainbow is one of three state hospitals for people with severe mental illness. Patients are not admitted unless they are considered a danger to themselves or others. The other state mental hospitals are in Osawatomie and Larned.

The announcement surprised advocates for the mentally ill.

“This is the first any of us have heard of this,” said Mike Hammond, executive director of the Association of Community mental Health Centers of Kansas.

“This is devastating news,” said JoAnn Howley, a Topeka resident who had hoped to testify Monday on behalf of the mentally ill but was not called. She may get an opportunity later this week.

“I was admitted to Osawatomie State Hospital in 1998,” Howley told KHI News Service. “I’m bipolar. I have a son who has schizophrenia and who was admitted to Osawatomie four times in 2009; four times in 2010. I know what’s going on at Osawatomie. I know what’s going on at Rainbow. We should not be closing beds. We should be adding beds.”

Dalton also said Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed cutting $250,000 from Rainbow’s $8.6 million budget in the current fiscal year.

The governor also has proposed cutting Osawatomie State Hospital’s $28.9 million budget by $500,000 in the current fiscal year and an additional $500,000 in the next fiscal year.

The state fiscal year begins on July 1.

Busy hospitals

SRS records show that in fiscal 2010, Rainbow was “over census” 36 percent of the time; Osawatomie State Hospital, 34 percent; Larned State Hospital, 83 percent.

In recent years, advocates for the mentally ill have urged legislators to expand access to inpatient care. The state hospitals’ 316 beds, they argue, are not enough.

“The reduction in beds at Rainbow will further strain the system,” Dalton said. “We’ll have to work with the community mental health centers to manage the use of these resources.”

Subcommittee members said they were uncomfortable with the proposed cuts in the state hospital budgets.

“This is very serious,” said Sen. Jean Schodrof, R-Wichita. “What we heard today, I think, shows just how stretched-thin the system is. It’s understaffed, it’s underfunded, and we keep expecting it to take in more and more people.

“Taking 14 beds out of the system is just going to make things worse,” said Schodorf, the committee’s chairperson.

Evaluations "kind of a joke"

Shortly after the subcommittee adjourned, the House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice held a hearing on a bill that would require court-ordered competency evaluations for criminal defendants be completed within 21 days or in cases “with good cause,” 45 days.

Currently, the evaluations take several months or in some cases years. Most are done at Larned State Hospital.

Defense and prosecuting attorneys said the evaluations from the hospital were inadequate.

Prisoners with obvious mental problems are sent there and stabilized during the long periods they are there then ruled fit for trial.

But the prisoners are then returned for trial and while waiting weeks in jail for their court proceedings slip back into their problems for lack of treatment and become once again unfit.

Larry McRell, chief public defender in Riley and Geary counties, called the Larned evaluations “wanting and deficient.”

Angela Davidson, a former Saline County prosecutor, said the evaluations are “kind of a joke.”