By DAVE RANNEY
KHI News Service
NEWTON — A private psychiatric unit here has stopped accepting overflow patients from the state hospital in Larned because state money has dried up.
The state’s three hospitals for the mentally ill have frequently been full beyond capacity in recent years. Larned State Hospital has been over capacity four out of every five days for at least the past two years.
And Prairie View in Newton was one of two private facilities used by the state as backup for patients needing hospitalization. The other is Via Christi Health System’s inpatient unit in Wichita. Via Christi continues to take patients who can’t get into state facilities in Kansas City or Osawatomie, but only accepts patients from the Wichita area.
Prairie View was the backstop for the Larned hospital, which takes patients from 59 central and western Kansas counties.
Problems for police
The capacity problems at the state hospitals are taking a toll on local law enforcement agencies by compounding the more general problem of dealing with mentally ill prisoners.
“We had to take three people to Larned just this week,” said Saline County Sheriff Glen Kochanowski. “Last week, we had to take people to Rainbow and Osawatomie because Larned was full. There just aren’t enough beds.”
Each trip costs the sheriff’s department between $400 and $450, Kochanowski said. Since Jan. 1, the sheriff’s office has made 49 trips to Larned, for a cost of $22,000.
“We get a lot of support from the hospitals, but that’s not the problem,” the sheriff said. “The problem is that we’ve got a lot of people who can’t get into Larned and they end up in jail on a lot of psychotropic drugs. That’s not where they belong.”
Officials at the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services did not respond to requests for comment.
Out of money
But Jess Kaye, Prairie View’s chief executive, said SRS officials told Prairie View officials the agency no longer had money to pay the facility for accepting patients redirected from the Larned hospital.
“We’ve been told to deactivate the (Larned hospital) census management initiative because there aren’t the dollars available,” Kaye said. “Unfortunately, we can’t provide the level of staffing that this requires if we’re not able to be paid.”
Since July 2010, Prairie View has cared for 35 patients who had been referred to Larned State Hospital but couldn’t be admitted there because the 90-bed psychiatric unit was full.
Prairie View billed SRS $212,400 for those patients’ care, Kaye said.
Late last week, Kaye learned that SRS had only budgeted $192,000 for Prairie View’s services through September 2011.
“When I asked what that meant — that’s when I was told to deactivate,” she said. “They didn’t cancel the agreement or rescind the contract, they just said ‘We don’t have the resources to continue and, hopefully, we’ll be able to find the dollars to reactivate this in the future.’”
Kaye said the Larned hospital had 113 patients as of Tuesday, or 23 more than its licensed capacity.
Eastern Kansas back-up intact
Larned State Hospital’s catchment area includes central and western Kansas. Eastern Kansas relies on Rainbow Mental Health Facility in Kansas City, and Osawatomie State Hospital. Osawatomie has 176 beds; Rainbow has 36.
When Osawatomie State Hospital and Rainbow are full, Wichita-area patients are sent to Via Christi Health System’s inpatient unit in Wichita, much like Larned State Hospital patients were sent to Prairie View.
Via Christi agreement intact
“We’ve not received a notice similar to the one that Prairie View received, apparently,” said Roz Hutchinson, a Via Christi spokeswoman. “We haven’t been told there’s a lack of funds or to stop taking (state hospital) patients.”
Generally, Via Chirsi and Prairie View were paid about $750 a day for each patient diverted from the state hospitals.
Similar services at the state hospitals cost between $300 and $500 a day.
Whether SRS renews its agreements with Via Christi and Prairie View after Sept. 30 remains to be seen.
The uncertainty has raised concerns among the state’s community mental health centers.
“This is very worrisome to me,” said Walt Hill, executive director at Great Plains Mental Health in Hays. “The best way to put it, I guess, is that when folks need to go to the hospital, they need to go to the hospital,” he said. “It’s an emergency situation. If they can’t get in, I’m afraid the only safe place for them may be the county jail, which, of course, is not where they belong.”
Larned State Hospital, Hill said, is the only inpatient psychiatric facility for adults in High Plains’ 20-county catchment area.
“For years, I don’t remember Larned being over 110 (patients). It was unusual for it be at 100,” Hill said. “Now it’s consistently over 110.”
Hill said he and other mental health center directors have been “ringing the alarm bell on state hospital capacity issues,” for the past three years.
Other changes are underway at the state mental hospitals.
On July 1, SRS fired Greg Valentine, superintendent at both Osawatomie State Hospital and Rainbow, and Larned State Hospital Superintendent Robert Connell.
Wes Cole, who has worked at Osawatomie 38 years, was named interim superintendent for the Osawatomie and Rainbow hospitals. Cole is chairman of the Governor’s Mental Health Advisory Council.
Christopher Burke was named interim superintendent at Larned State Hospital, where he has worked since 2007.
Last week, SRS also fired Kimberly Brennan, director of nursing at Larned. She’d been at the hospital since 2005.
“The letter I was given said it was because I was unclassified, that I didn’t have civil service protection,” Brennan said. “I hold no ill will toward the hospital. They were just doing what they were told to do.”
Brennan said five or six nurses at the hospital had quit in recent weeks.
“It’s because of the stress levels,” she said. “They’re pretty high. It’s a very tough job. Our patients have many needs including medical, behavioral and psychiatric.”