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Kansas state mental hospital regains certification for unit

December 19, 2017

Kansas Secretary for Aging and Disability Services Tim Keck discusses the federal government's recertification of a 60-bed unit at the Osawatomie State mental hospital during an interview, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, in Topeka, Kan. The federal government revoked its certification for the hospital in December 2015 over staffing, safety and patient care issues. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The state mental hospital in eastern Kansas has regained federal certification for one of its treatment units after two years of working to address safety and patient care issues, a dose of good news as officials consider the entire hospital’s future.

The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services confirmed Tuesday that Osawatomie State Hospital, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Kansas City, had passed a federal inspection after Thanksgiving, the second within four months. The decision applies to a 60-bed unit at the hospital, which was treating 144 patients Tuesday and has a capacity of 158.

Department officials and legislators cheered the development. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ decision in December 2015 to revoke the hospital’s certification had been costing Kansas up to $1 million a month in federal funds.

“It’s been a heavy lift,” department Secretary Tim Keck said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday before the official announcement. “I’m over the moon with excitement.”

Keck said it’s not clear exactly how much of the federal funding Kansas has lost will come back, though it’s likely to be between 40 percent and 50 percent. The federal agency notified Kansas of the recertification late Monday, Keck said.

The decertification two years ago came after federal surveyors described a “systemic failure” to protect suicidal patients, adequately supervise care and perform required safety checks. The decision also came after a staff member reported being raped by a patient.

Surveyors later cited the hospital for having fixtures and furniture that they said could allow patients to strangle or hang themselves.

The 60-bed unit underwent $1.3 million in renovations to lessen the risk of patient suicides, and the state boosted wages for hospital workers to lessen staff vacancies.

The hospital also revised treatment for patients to focus more on each person individually, which Superintendent John Worley said became more possible as staffing issues decreased. The 60-bed unit also is managed separately from the rest of the hospital, with its own CEO and staff — something federal officials required.

The announcement of the unit’s recertification comes as the department pursues a plan to have a private company build a new hospital in Osawatomie and operate it for the state, as well as other options for the state to build a new hospital itself. The hospital first opened in 1866, and buildings on its 391-acre campus are decades old.

Keck said the department expects to have a privatization proposal for lawmakers to consider after they convene their next annual session in January. He said even with a new hospital, the state is likely to continue using the recertified unit for some time.

The state also is facing issues at its other mental hospital in Larned in western Kansas, about 115 miles (185 kilometers) northwest of Wichita. In October, federal officials threatened to decertify a 104-bed unit there amid questions about its patient rights policies and the same kind of hanging and strangulation risks seen at Osawatomie. But Keck said the department is working to resolve those issues.

Kansas House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat who is running for governor next year, said the recertification of Osawatomie’s unit is welcome news. But he added that the state has struggled with “core issues” related to its hospitals and services for the mentally ill.

“These people are vulnerable. They are in need of help, and if we don’t help them, they’re dangerous to other people in the community,” Ward said.

Republican Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer said the unit’s recertification “will go a long way” toward strengthening care for the mentally ill.

As Worley, the hospital’s superintendent, put it: “It feels absolutely wonderful. Lots of happy whoops.”

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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