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Kansas To Seek Partial Recertification Of Osawatomie Soon

Phil Cauthon for KHI News Service

Kansas plans to ask the federal government soon to recertify part of its state mental hospital in Osawatomie, a top social services official said Wednesday, a move that would restore less than half of its lost federal funding.

Tim Keck, interim secretary for the state Department for Aging and Disability Services , said Kansas plans to seek recertification of 60 of the 206 beds at Osawatomie State Hospital, about 45 miles southwest of Kansas City. He said the hospital is close to finishing renovations on a 60-bed unit, aimed at complying with federal officials' demands for changes.

The state has been losing about $1 million a month in federal funds since the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services decertified Osawatomie in December. The action came after a patient was charged with raping an employee and other safety issues.

The Legislature's joint auditing committee on Wednesday reviewed a report that said the state would regain $400,000 a month in federal funds if 60 beds are recertified but still would lose $600,000 a month. Keck told lawmakers his department isn't sure it will seek to recertify additional beds because it isn't sure what federal officials will demand for the rest of the hospital.

"We'll have to see after we get through this part of it," Keck said. "Part of it is how reasonable we're treated by CMS when they come in to do recertification."

Legislators boosted state spending on Osawatomie and the state's mental hospital in Larned in western Kansas earlier this year to increase employees' pay, help fill staff vacancies and offset the loss of the federal funds. Keck's department once hoped to apply for recertification by July, but he said Wednesday, "That wasn't a deadline at all."

Keck told The Associated Press after appearing before the committee that the department would apply for recertification "very, very, very soon."

The legislative audit said state a recertification could take from two to four months while federal officials told the auditors it could take from nine to 15 months.

A CMS spokeswoman did not immediately return messages seeking comment. Keck attributed federal officials' more pessimistic assessment to their not seeing the progress Osawatomie has made in renovating the 60-bed unit, boosting staffing and improving care.

The hospital dropped its capacity to 146 beds to accommodate the renovations. The changes are designed to eliminate the risk that patients kill themselves by hanging or self-strangling by surrounding them with modernistic plastic furniture, handles that give way and doors with alarms on top.

CMS first threatened to cut off federal funds in November 2014, when the hospital was 25 percent over its 206-bed capacity. It demanded the renovations in July 2015.

Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, told Keck, who became interim secretary in January, "I think you've done a very good job in taking over a very tough situation and moving forward."

But Kelly also asked Keck how the state would sustain its short-term improvements in staffing over time.

Keck acknowledged that "everything costs more money," adding that Republican Gov. Sam Brownback "seems to be on board with it."

The Associated Press is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering, supplying a steady stream of news to its members, international subscribers and commercial customers. AP is neither privately owned nor government-funded; instead, it's a not-for-profit news cooperative owned by its American newspaper and broadcast members.