Archives: KHI News Service

State mental hospitals packed

Jails will take the overflow, lawmakers told

By Dave Ranney | February 04, 2010

The state hospitals for the mentally ill are full and often over capacity. lawmakers were told Wednesday.

Since last July, Larned State Hospital has been over census almost nine of every 10 days.

“What that means is we have two people in rooms meant for one,” said Supt. Robert Connell.

Osawatomie State Hospital and Rainbow Mental Health Facility in Kansas City have each been over census almost one of every four days.

“There’s a lot of stress on the system right now,” said Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services Secretary Don Jordan, addressing the House Health and Human Services Committee. "What I see happening is that more and more time and resources are having to be spent on those crises, which means some of the lower stuff isn’t being dealt with. At some point after that is when there start to be failures."

Asked if the hospitals were discharging patients before they were stable, Jordan said they were not, noting that for as long as he could remember hospital and community mental health centers officials have argued over discharge decisions.

Longer patient stays, he said, would put the hospitals in a position of having to turn away people in crisis.

“That would cause tremendous problems all across the state,” Jordan said.

Prior to becoming SRS secretary Jordan was superintendent at Osawatomie State Hospital.

Asked if the hospital overcrowding endangered the public, Jordan said it was likely that more people will “end up going to jail rather than the state hospital.”

He warned that while the hospitals are struggling, the state’s community mental health centers are in “even worse shape.”

Mental health center directors are expected to testify Thursday.

Collectively, the three hospitals’ budgets were cut about $3.4 million last year.

Jordan said the cuts have been difficult to implement because the hospitals are almost always full, creating few opportunities for downsizing.

“They operate pretty much on an at-cost basis,” he said.

After the hearing, Rep. Jerry Henry, D-Cummings, referred to the hospitals as “a powder keg waiting to go off.”’

David Wiebe, executive director at the Johnson County Mental Health Center, said the state’s mental health system – three state hospital and 27 community mental health centers - is beginning to unravel.

“Just look at what’s happened at Osawatomie State Hospital in the last 10 years,” Wiebe said. “It’s overall budget has gone up 38 percent; it’s lost 36 positions; its admissions are up 300 percent.

“Ten years ago, Osawatomie had fewer than 1,000 admissions in a year,” he said. “This year – the fiscal year we’re in now – it’s on track to exceed 3,000.”

Without additional funding for the hospitals, Wiebe said more would-be patients will end up in jail. Many, he said, are there already.

“The Johnson County Jail has about 800 beds,” he said. “Eighteen percent – that’s about 140 people – have been diagnosed as being mentally ill. That’s almost as big as a state hospital.”

Osawatomie State Hospital has 176 beds; Rainbow Mental Health Facility has 50. The inpatient unit at Larned State Hospital has 79 beds.

“I have six full-time staff that work in the Johnson County Jail,” Wiebe said.