By Dave Ranney
KHI News Service
c LARNED — Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and Shawn Sullivan, Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services Secretary, will lead a tour of Larned State Hospital facilities Thursday.
Sullivan has told lawmakers that he has hired a Denver consulting firm called the Buckley Group to look for ways to make the state’s five hospitals for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled more efficient.
“The recommendations aren’t due for another month or more,” he said at an informational meeting held by the House Health and Humans Services Committee.
Sullivan said he was not interested in reducing the number of patient beds in the system. Instead, he said, he wanted to learn if some of the beds could be repurposed in ways that would lead to shorter patient stays and increased access to community-based crisis care.
“This is a conversation that’s been going on for a while,” within KDADS, he said.
Sullivan told committee members that he planned to discuss the consulting firm’s recommendations with members of a KDADS task and advocates for the developmentally disabled and the mentally ill.
“They’ve done this for other states,” Sullivan said. “They have experience.”
The state hospitals for the developmentally disabled are in Topeka and Parsons. Those for the mentally ill are in Larned, Osawatomie and Kansas City.
Most of the 90-minute meeting was spent discussing the recently announced uncertainties surrounding the reopening of the Rainbow Mental Health Facility in Kansas City, Kan.
Fourteen of the facility’s 50 beds were closed in February 2011 after federal surveyors cited the hospital for being understaffed. Seven months later, 30 of the remaining 36 beds were closed after the State Fire Marshal found safety violations.
The six beds still at Rainbow were converted to a crisis stabilization unit.
The remaining 30 beds were moved to a then-vacant, 30-bed unit at Osawatomie State Hospital. The two hospitals are about 50 miles apart.
Sullivan said he had not decided yet whether to reopen a remodeled Rainbow to fill its previous purpose or repurpose some or most of the beds. Others options, he said, would be to privatize the hospital’s operations, sell the building or create a public-private partnership.
If he decided to leave the facility’s 30 beds at Osawatomie State Hospital, Sullivan said he thought he might be able to “save” as much as $3.5 million, which could be used to underwrite additional crisis-stabilization beds or launch a regional “social detox” unit. Those two programs, he said, could lead to fewer people being hospitalized.
Rainbow’s six-bed crisis stabilization unit would remain open, he said,
If the hospital is reconfigured, he said it would be in line with Gov. Sam Brownback developing plan to focus more resources on the state’s “most at-risk and challenging populations.”
Admissions to the state’s mental health hospitals are limited to adults who are considered a potential danger to themselves or others. Most admissions are court ordered.
Sullivan said he hoped to have a plan for Rainbow ready sometime in April.
“We’re still in the beginning phases of this,” he said.
Sullivan said the renovated building would reopen in the spring of 2014.
Mike Hammond, executive director of the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas, said he was pleased by Sullivan’s willingness to discuss the role of the state hospitals.
“The system is always going to need inpatient beds — but that’s not the question,” Hammond said. “The question is how many beds and what’s the best and most efficient way for those beds to be configured? There no easy way for coming up with that magic number.”
Hammond said he and other mental health advocates would insist that any shifts in funding for Rainbow or Osawatomie State Hospital be accompanied by a “guarantee” that the “resources would remain in place.”
The state’s mental health system, he said, could not withstand further cuts in spending.
Though Medicaid spending for mental health services has increased, since 2007, a state-funded grant program that mental health centers use to cover the costs of caring for the uninsured has been reduced from $31 million to $15 million.