TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — An influential Republican legislator wants Kansas to postpone efforts to regain federal certification for one of its two state mental hospitals as it tackles safety problems following reports that an employee was raped and a patient engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior.
State Sen. Jim Denning, of Overland Park, chairman of a budget subcommittee on social services, said he’s concerned that demands from the federal government earlier this year for renovations at Osawatomie State Hospital have distracted the state from protecting hospital employees and providing the best possible care for mentally ill patients.
“Let’s just take a pause,” Denning said. “Let’s continue to clean up our operation.”
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services notified the hospital last month that Medicare would stop paying for patient care as of this week. The notice came after a survey found a “systemic failure” to protect suicidal patients, adequately supervise care and perform required safety checks. The survey cited the report of the employee’s rape, which led to a felony rape charge against a patient.
The hospital responded with a plan earlier this month that included requiring employees to wear personal alarm buttons and recruiting additional security, federal documents show.
But a follow-up survey said an unnamed male patient, “a known sex offender,” was placed in a hall with female patients and wasn’t supervised closely enough to prevent him from having sex with another patient.
Top officials at the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, which oversees the state’s mental hospitals in Osawatomie and Larned, said the state undertook renovations at Osawatomie to resolve safety issues raised by federal officials. Bill Rein, the department’s superintendent of state hospitals, said it has “exhaustively studied” each reported deficiency.
“We have responded to every one of those,” he said. “The mere fact that there’s a response to it means that we took it seriously.”
Without the federal agency’s certification, the state will lose not only Medicare funds but other federal dollars, possibly as much as $900,000 a month.
“Right now, the focus is to ensure that Osawatomie continues to be available for patients and that staff continue to work for ensuring that patients and staff are in a safe environment,” KDADS Secretary Kari Bruffett said.
Rep. Jerry Henry, of Atchison, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said the Republican-controlled Legislature needs to hold “immediate hearings” on the hospital’s operations and whether its staffing and annual budget of about $30 million are adequate.
The renovations ordered by federal officials for Osawatomie included changes to ceilings, doorknobs and drinking fountains aimed at lessening the risk that patients would commit suicide by hanging or strangling themselves.
The hospital dropped its capacity to 146 patients from 206 patients to accommodate the renovations. State officials expected space for 60 patients to meet federal standards by winter.
But Rein said federal officials told the state in October that newly renovated space had to be run as if it were its own hospital, with a separate pharmacy and staff, which would require the state to hire additional employees.
Denning said continuing to pursue such requirements could become “a rabbit hole” for the state, offsetting the potential loss of federal funds if Kansas doesn’t comply.
Republican Sen. Molly Baumgardner, of Louisburg, who represents some hospital employees, said lawmakers aren’t going to be satisfied with “just spending money chasing the possibility of certification.” And House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey, another Louisburg Republican, said federal requirements seem to be “a moving target.”
“Our focus needs to be on providing care and doing it in an environment in which employees are safe,” Vickrey said.
Denning said the state should consider turning all or part of Osawatomie’s operations over to a private hospital system. Vickrey and Baumgardner dismissed the idea.
But Bruffett said to protect patient care and employee safety, “We would not take anything off the table.”
Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services: http://www.kdads.ks.gov
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