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Kansas Makes A Deal With Advocates To Move People With Mental Illness Out Of ‘Warehouses’

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Kansas News Service

The agreement promises services that could help hundreds of people leave nursing homes and live on their own.

The state of Kansas and disability advocates unveiled an agreement Tuesday that could potentially help hundreds of people leave mental health facilities that critics have called “warehouses.”

The multi-year agreement says it will be a priority to move people out of the state’s 10 mental health nursing homes. The facilities can hold more than 600 people, many over age 50, and are based largely in the eastern part of Kansas.

The Disability Rights Center of Kansas hailed the decision as giving people who enter the homes more choices on when they can leave.

“It’s a big deal,” Disability Rights Center of Kansas Legal Director Lane Williams said in an interview. “They’re not going to get lost in that system.”

As of now, the facilities hold a total of 550 people. The deal potentially creates a path for people to use the facilities as a bridge, instead of sometimes remaining in them for years.

Private organizations run the homes with state tax dollars. A 2019 report from the DRC said the nursing homes don’t offer enough services for people to transition out.

The report argued the homes were “warehouses” for people who had mental health issues but who potentially could live on their own with the right support.

“People go to these places. They get stuck in these institutions, and it becomes very difficult for them to get out,” DRC Executive Director Rocky Nichols said in 2019.

The agreement targets some of the barriers that have made it hard for people to leave. It says residents will have expanded access to housing programs and services that could connect them to jobs.

Those services could create a pathway for someone to have a place to live and employment, two of the most critical pieces needed for leaving the nursing homes.

Case managers will develop plans for transitioning out of the facilities starting as soon as someone is admitted.

The agreement also sets specific goals for reducing the number of people referred to the nursing homes in the coming years and increasing the number of people who leave.

Over the next five years, the number of people referred for admission to the nursing homes should fall by 10% per year. The number of people leaving should increase by 20% each year.

The secretary who jointly oversees the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability services as well as the Department for Children and Families said the agreement marks progress for people living in the homes.

“This agreement continues us down the path of strengthening the continuum of care for individuals needing mental health services with a focus on community-based options,” Secretary Laura Howard said in a statement.

Representatives of the nursing homes and the state had agreed on a need for improvements following the 2019 report, but they said other challenges like a lack of affordable housing made moving people out difficult.

The new proposal specifically targets the need for support systems for people living on their own and makes it a priority to give residents the choice of whether to leave.

Funding for the changes is largely already available in the most recent state budget.

Stephen Koranda is the news editor for the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @Stephen_Koranda or email him at stephenkoranda (at) kcur (dot) org.

Abigail Censky is the political reporter for the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @AbigailCensky or email her at abigailcensky (at) kcur (dot) org.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Copyright 2021 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Radio covering health, education and politics.
Abigail Censky is the Politics & Government reporter at WKAR. She started in December 2018.