The state will lift a longstanding moratorium on voluntary admissions at Osawatomie State Hospital, the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services said Thursday, a move which will likely come as a relief to state legislators and many in the state’s mental health community.
The moratorium will be lifted on Jan. 3, 2022, after being in place for over six years. Osawatomie, along with Larned State Hospital, serve patients with serious or acute mental health conditions upon referral from community providers or providing care for those under court order.
“Since day one, my administration has prioritized policies that provide Kansans with the mental health resources and support they deserve,” Gov. Laura Kelly said in a statement. “I’m confident this plan will continue our efforts and provide a more comprehensive and inclusive continuum of care for everyone.”
The moratorium dates back to 2015 and a citation from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that the facility wasn’t doing enough to prevent suicidal patients from harming themselves. It came on the heels of a separate citation, with the hospital housing routinely three patients in rooms built for two.
But the pause on voluntary admissions has created problems for other mental health providers, law enforcement personnel and health care facilities, who are unsure of what to do with those in the throes of serious mental illness if admission to Osawatomie isn’t an option.
As part of a plan to lift the moratorium, KDADS has said they will create a new class of mental health providers dubbed State Intuitional Alternative.
This effectively allowing private psychiatric facilities to stand in for state hospitals with the intent of easing strain on the system for both patients seeking voluntary and court-mandated treatment alike. Currently, 8 hospitals statewide are serving as SIAs.
The agency is also planning to complete renovations on one Osawatomie building by Jan., 2022. Separate renovations will free up more space and allow double occupancy rooms to be converted to single occupancy.
A waiting list will be used if demand rises, with 15% of beds to be set aside for involuntary admissions.
Osawatomie will eventually have a capacity of 72 certified beds and 110 licensed beds, under the plan, though COVID-19 and staffing concerns will likely limit that number for the time being.
Indeed, staffing challenges have been acute as both Osawatomie and Larned. The state has embarked on a plan to implement temporary and permanent raises for staff there, as well as other state facilities, but it comes after retention rates have remained stubbornly low.
Overall staff vacancy rates at Larned and Osawatomie are hovering around 38%, but certain positions — such as mental health technicians — have even higher rates.
“It’s a good and interesting point,” Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, R-Galena, and chair of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, said. “Staffing shortages are real and just about everywhere and definitely in that area is no exception and maybe it is even a bigger issue. It would be (an issue). We just have to make sure we are doing what we can.
Legislators have long encouraged the lifting of the moratorium, inserting language in the most recent budget requiring KDADS to change the policy, though Gov. Laura Kelly rejected the provision and Republican lawmakers didn’t attempt to override her decision.
Hilderbrand’s reaction to the news?
“It is about time,” he said.
Andrew Bahl is a senior statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com or by phone at 443-979-6100.
This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Kansas mental health hospital to lift voluntary admissions ban