By Dave Ranney
KHI News Service
TOPEKA — Mental health officials in western Kansas have sought assurances that Larned State Hospital will continue to provide inpatient care for the mentally ill.
“There is a great deal of uncertainty about what’s happening there,” said Walt Hill, executive director of the High Plains Mental Health Center in Hays.
Hill raised the concerns during a meeting of the Mental Health Coalition of Kansas.
“It’s our safety net,” he said of the hospital. “It’s a critical resource for us.”
Hill, who spoke via speaker phone, was directing his remarks to Angela Hagen, director of mental health for the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.
High Plains Mental Health Center serves 20 counties in northwest Kansas, all of which are in the Larned hospital’s 61-county catchment area.
Hill said his anxiety was fueled by the news Monday that the hospital’s superintendent, Christopher Burke, had resigned amid the facility’s efforts to correct 30 deficiencies cited during a recent accreditation survey.
Burke had been superintendent for less than a year. His predecessor, Robert Connell, had been superintendent for almost two and a half years before being fired by then Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services Secretary Rob Siedlecki.
Siedlecki resigned earlier this year. He’d been secretary for less than a year.
Hagen told Hill she would relay his concerns to her superiors at SRS.
Angela de Rocha, a spokeswoman for SRS, later told KHI News Service that the hospital’s future was not in jeopardy.
“We have an interim superintendent, we’re conducting a nationwide search for a new superintendent, and we’re aggressively out recruiting for the other unfilled positions at the hospital,” she said.
According to a March accreditation survey, 27 percent of the hospital’s registered nurse positions were vacant; 44 percent of the licensed practical nurse positions were vacant.
Nurses and direct care workers often are required to work 12- and 16-hour shifts.
The hospital had been without an on-campus medical director since January.
The Joint Commission, a national organization that accredits hospitals, gave the hospital 45 days to put together a plan for correcting the 14 deficiencies it considered to be the most serious and 60 days to correct the remaining 16 deficiencies. The 60 days ended May 21.
Surveyors are expected to visit the hospital again sometime this summer. The visit will be unannounced.
A poor showing could put the hospital’s accreditation — and potentially $14.5 million in federal aid — at risk.
SRS won’t let that happen, de Rocha said.
“Accreditation is a process,” she said. “It’s not pass-fail, it’s monitor, tweak and improve. That’s what we’re doing.”
She said SRS has no intention of closing the hospital.
“Once we get a handle on the staffing problem, a lot of the other issues will go away,” she said.
Last week, legislators agreed to add $1.9 million to the hospital’s $61.6 million budget to help deal with the staffing problems. Most of that increase will be spent on pay raises for nurses and hiring 27 additional direct care workers, according to SRS officials.
The hospital also houses the state’s treatment program for sexual predators.