Under The Surface: The State Of Mental Health

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.

Phil Cauthon for KHI News Service

The state is seeking a private partner to operate Osawatomie State Hospital under a proposal that would allow the contractor to shift more than half the hospital’s beds to other parts of eastern Kansas.

A request for proposals to operate Osawatomie State Hospital was posted Monday on the Kansas Department of Administration website. It would require a contractor to maintain 206 beds for inpatient mental health treatment but said only 94 would have to be at Osawatomie State Hospital. Any remaining beds would have to be in the hospital’s catchment area, which covers eastern Kansas.

KHI News Service/File photo

The heads of Kansas’ 26 community mental health centers are preparing to push an ambitious set of proposals to address what they say are growing gaps in the state’s behavioral health system.

In addition to restoring funding cuts made prior to the Great Recession, the center directors want Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and lawmakers to expand a network of regional crisis intervention centers.

Jim McLean / Heartland Health Monitor

Advocates for Medicaid expansion in Kansas are focusing on a new issue in their final push before next week’s election: They’re selling expansion as a way to address the state’s mental health crisis and the public safety concerns it’s giving rise to.

It’s no secret that the mental health system in Kansas is strained almost to the breaking point.

State hospitals are at capacity. And after suffering millions of dollars in budget cuts, community mental health centers are struggling to maintain services.

Jasleen Kaur, flickr Creative Commons

Campaign finance reports out this week show that Kansas health care organizations are putting their checkbooks behind the Medicaid expansion effort.

In previous elections the Kansas Hospital Association’s political action committee distributed contributions pretty evenly, giving to candidates regardless of party or ideology.

Not this year.

Nadya Faulx / KMUW

Sedgwick County’s Comcare is the state’s largest community mental health agency, and has been helping people with mental illness or substance use disorder for more than 50 years.

Comcare expanded its crisis services last year, and created a model of care that officials say is exceeding expectations. Deborah Shaar reports on the agency’s Community Crisis Center.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

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.

Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor

Experts from a variety of fields gathered Wednesday at the Kansas Statehouse for a mental health symposium spurred by an Emporia hospital’s struggle last year to find a psychiatric care bed for a suicidal patient.

House Speaker Pro Tem Peggy Mast, a Republican from Emporia, said she was inspired to convene the symposium after hearing from officials at Newman Regional Health.

COURTESY KANSAS DEPARTMENT FOR AGING AND DISABILITY SERVICES

Editor’s note: Heartland Health Monitor partner KHI News Service conducted a months-long investigation into what led federal officials to deem Osawatomie State Hospital as a facility too dangerous for Medicare patients and whether officials can rebuild the hospital for a successful future. This is the fifth and final story of the series.

iStock illustration

Years of problems at Osawatomie State Hospital reached a crisis point in the fall of 2015, when the sexual assault of a hospital employee by a patient triggered two failed inspections and the loss of federal funding.

HEARTLAND HEALTH MONITOR

Administrators at Osawatomie State Hospital worked to maintain a delicate balance in 2011 as they struggled to cope with rising demand for care and funding that hadn’t kept up.

OSH superintendents had credited the facility’s experienced workforce for pulling it through lean times before, but that key source of stability soon would be diminished.

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