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.


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.

Meg Wingerter / Kansas News Service/File photo

In the years between World War II and John F. Kennedy’s presidency, Kansas transformed its mental health system. Building what had been among the nation’s worst into one of the best. A new round of reforms rejuvenated the system in the early 1990s. But as Heartland Health Monitor’s Jim McLean reports, the failure of successive governors and legislatures to fund those reforms is now threatening to reverse years of progress and the future of the state’s largest mental health hospital.


Editor’s note: Heartland Health Monitor partner KHI News Service conducted dozens of interviews to chart how Osawatomie State Hospital went from a respected facility to one that federal officials deemed too unsafe for Medicare patients and how the hospital could rebuild for the future. This is the first story in a series resulting from that investigation.

The final federal inspections of Osawatomie State Hospital in 2015 painted a picture of a place where both employees and patients were in danger and low staffing levels compromised care.

Jim McLean / KHI News Service

Getting on the right medicines is critical for people living with mental health disorders or chronic illnesses, like multiple sclerosis or AIDS. But because prescription drugs can be so costly, most insurance companies don’t allow patients to start with the newest and most expensive drugs. And now, despite strong opposition from patient advocacy organizations, the Kansas Medicaid program is moving in that direction too.