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State Will Pursue Recertification Of Osawatomie Mental Health Hospital

Phil Cauthon for KHI News Service

After weeks of speculation about the future of the Osawatomie State Hospital, state officials say they will attempt to regain its federal certification. As Heartland Health Monitor’s Jim McLean reports, safety and security issues prompted federal officials to decertify the state’s largest mental health hospital in December.

A failed inspection and security lapses underscored by the sexual assault of a hospital worker by a patient led to the decertification and the suspension of federal Medicare payments.

In the weeks since, Kansas officials have been unsure whether the state could afford the increased staff and renovations that might be required for recertification. And they feared that additional construction would force them to continue to limit patient admissions at a time when more treatment beds are urgently needed.

But Tim Keck, the interim secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services is now telling legislators that the state will hire a consultant to help pursue recertification.

Keck said privatizing the state’s largest mental health hospital also remains an option.

More from KHI News' Megan Hart:

The state will try to get Osawatomie State Hospital back into Medicare’s good graces within the next six months, officials told a joint legislative committee Thursday.

Tim Keck, interim secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, said the department will pursue recertification for Osawatomie, ending several weeks of speculation.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced in December that it would halt Medicare payments to Osawatomie due to security issues that had come to light after the reported rape of an employee by a patient.

Osawatomie is one of two state-run inpatient treatment facilities for Kansans with severe and persistent mental illness. The other is in Larned.

KDADS will hire a consultant, whose name will be released after the contract is finalized, Keck said. The consultant could arrive as early as February to conduct a mock inspection and help Osawatomie staff to identify and correct any problems that would prevent recertification, he said. If the consultant doesn’t identify major hurdles for the hospital, the process could take three to six months.

KDADS also has 60 days to appeal the CMS decision, with about one month of that time already elapsed. An appeal would challenge the CMS decision, Keck said, while applying for recertification doesn’t argue the merits of the decision but attempts to comply with CMS requirements. The department still is deciding if an appeal makes sense, he said.

Osawatomie is licensed for 206 patients but had to reduce its patient population to 146 for renovations last year after CMS identified safety concerns in patient rooms and common areas.

The hospital has admitted more than 700 patients since the moratorium, with an average wait of about 24 hours for a spot to open, Keck said. It also contracted with other facilities to treat patients who don’t need the level of security available at Osawatomie, he said.

Members of the legislative committee expressed concerns that Osawatomie didn’t have enough staff to safely care for its patients.

Bill Rein, a mental health commissioner with KDADS, said the hospital has enough staff for 146 patients but will need to hire more in order to care for 206 patients, particularly due to a CMS requirement that patients reimbursed by Medicare be housed separately from others until security concerns are addressed.

Legislators also repeatedly asked if KDADS would ask for additional funding to hire more staff. Keck said the department would have a better idea within the next two weeks. Rein attributed the staffing problems more to the difficulty of hiring people to fill budgeted positions.

Keck did not outline what role, if any, private groups might play at Osawatomie.

“Everything is on the table,” he said.

Rein also fielded questions from legislators about problems with documentation. The federal inspection that led to Medicare decertification noted security staff reported they had performed checks when they had not.

Staff members are reviewing records regularly, he said, with the promise of punishing falsification. But that doesn’t guarantee something won’t “slip by,” Rein said.

“That is the worst possible thing that could happen, is altering a record,” he said.