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KMUW, in partnership with Heartland Health Monitor, KCUR 89.3, and Kansas Public Radio, takes a deep look at the state of Kansas' mental health system.

Federal Inspectors Headed To Osawatomie State Hospital

Andy Marso
Heartland Health Monitor
Kelli Ludlum, right, assistant secretary for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, updates members of the Kansas Mental Health Coalition on the upcoming federal inspection at Osawatomie State Hospital.

The second-in-command at the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services told mental health advocates last week that Osawatomie State Hospital is well-prepared going into a high-stakes federal inspection Tuesday.

The Osawatomie hospital is one of two inpatient state facilities for Kansans with severe mental illness. KDADS Secretary Tim Keck visited the other facility in Larned last Wednesday.

That left Kelli Ludlum, assistant KDADS secretary, to update the Kansas Mental Health Coalition on Osawatomie, which is seeking to regain millions of dollars in federal payments lost when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services decertified the facility last year.

“We are ready,” Ludlum said during the coalition’s meeting in Topeka last week.

She said the facility was nearly ready when it submitted its recertification application earlier this month, but it was waiting on the installation of new baseboards.

“Special plastic, infection-resistant, antibacterial rubber baseboard that is apparently extremely rare and extremely scarce,” Ludlum said. “That is now installed and we are ready to go.”

KDADS is seeking federal recertification for only 60 of the hospital’s 206 beds. The 60 are in an area that has been under heavy remodeling.

Ludlum reiterated comments Keck made last month about the department wanting to make sure federal inspectors look favorably on the current remodeling work before embarking on an expensive revamp of the rest of the hospital.

Ludlum said the agency fears federal officials won’t approach the upcoming inspection with an open mind given the facility’s recent history.

“It’s hard to know what will happen when CMS shows up,” Ludlum said. “Our request is basically just a clean slate.”

After the inspection, KDADS plans to gradually restore the 60 beds to service.

Amy Campbell, the mental health coalition’s lobbyist, said the beds are much-needed.

She distributed a chart that showed the average wait time for a bed at OSH growing steadily in the past year, from less than one day to more than two days.

She emphasized that all those waiting for a bed have been deemed a danger to themselves or others.

“Please remember these are individuals who have actually been screened for involuntary commitment,” Campbell said. “We are not having any voluntary commitments at Osawatomie at this time.”

She said those Kansans often are held in jails or secured spaces within hospitals until a bed comes free and the law enforcement community “is emphatic that this has got to change.”

Campbell said she was “fascinated” that KDADS decided to initially seek recertification for only 60 beds, calling it “almost like a test run at recertification.”

Ludlum said that the differences between the units seeking recertification and those that aren’t would be only facilities-related and largely cosmetic. Staffing levels and treatment quality would be the same.

To that end, Ludlum said Osawatomie has made significant progress in beefing up staff and reducing forced overtime — to the point that she recently received an email from an employee complaining about a lack of overtime.

“In my mind that’s a pretty good problem to have,” Ludlum said, but she added that the state still is looking to fill some slots at Osawatomie and Larned.

Keck has made recruiting and retaining staff a priority since taking over last year — even successfully lobbying the Legislature for more money to raise nursing salaries despite a tight state budget.

Campbell said the successes in that area seem to have Keck more confident about the state’s ability to run the hospitals, while in the beginning he seemed more bullish on privatizing them.

But she said some appetite for privatization remains within the administration, especially if it’s contingent on the new contractor replacing the “extremely outdated” electronic medical records systems at both hospitals.

“That’s a huge part of the discussion,” Campbell said.

Legislators from both parties have said they oppose privatizing the state hospitals and passed a bill last year requiring the Brownback administration to get their permission before pursuing it.

Andy Marso is a reporter for the Heartland Health Monitor team. You can reach him on Twitter @andymarso.