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Brownback Signs Bills Barring Privatizing Kansas Mental Hospitals Without Lawmaker OK

Phil Cauthon
KHI News Service/File photo

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback this week signed bills that prevent privatizing troubled state mental hospitals unless lawmakers approve. There have been staff shortages and other issues at the Larned and Osawatomie state hospitals.

Tim Keck, interim secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, has said in the past he wants to at least consider the option of privatizing state hospitals. This week, Brownback was asked by a reporter if privatizing the facilities is a long-term solution for the problems.

“We are not anywhere near being able to say something like that. These facilities have had substantial difficulties for some period of time,” Brownback said. “I think we need to take good, hard looks at these places and see what we can do to help it be more efficient and effective, but I’m nowhere near making the kind of statement that you’re talking about there."

Brownback says one of the long-term challenges has been funding. The budget he signed this week includes an additional $17 million for the state mental hospitals, including funding for staff raises.

A spokesperson for the Department for Aging and Disability Services says their first priority is getting Osawatomie State Hospital recertified by the federal government. Angela de Rocha says the department won't seek any privatization proposals without first consulting with lawmakers.

Stephen Koranda is the managing editor of the Kansas News Service, based at KCUR. He has nearly 20 years of experience in public media as a reporter and editor.