OSAWATOMIE — U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran said the whole behavioral health system is an important issue throughout Kansas and the nation.
“My takeaway is that the problem can’t be fixed just at Osawatomie or Larned, our two mental health hospitals,” Moran said Friday after visiting the Osawatomie State Hospital. “Beyond the economic consequence of this facility, Kansas needs a strong mental health system.
“The way we care for people with mental illness in communities also matters because the overcrowding that has occurred here in part is related to the fact that there is no place to discharge patients to from the acute care units back to the community or back to a different environment. It exasperaberates the problem and so just fixing Osawatomie is insufficient to fix the problem.”
Moran said the hospital, which opened 150 years ago, is a significant fixture in Kansas.
“There is history here,” he said. “In a broad Kansas sense, Osawatomie State Hospital is a significant employer. It matters economically. Many people earn a living here. It is important to many families over a number of generations. We need to make certain the resources are there.”
Moran added he needs input from law enforcement, county commissioners, district attorneys and prosecutors because with Osawatomie not taking new patients, there are limited places for people facing mental health issues to receive treatment.
“They end up in our jail,” he said. “It is an expensive place and that is not where they belong. This is not just a local issue. It is not about Osawatomie. The consequences of what happens here or Larned effects every county in Kansas therefore it effects every taxpayer, every person who cares about law and order, and everybody who wants to care and make certain those with behavior health issues that treatment is available.”
Osawatomie State Hospital lost certification in December after federal inspectors expressed concerns over safety after a patient was charged in the rape of a staff member this past October and out-of-date facilities.
Moran was told by hospital officials many of those problems have been improved and the psychiatric facility is waiting for a federal inspection. It was reported, the hospital loses $1 million each month without certification.
“The federal licensor, the certification of facilities here, is something we offered to be involved in,” Moran said. “We want to make sure it happens at the appropriate time in a timely fashion. I serve on the appropriations committee that funds the center for medicare and medicaid services that will make those determinations.
“That application is pending. The hospital is waiting for the arrival of an unannounced inspection. When the time comes, people can believe we can be helpful in getting the result and I have an understanding what is going on here.
“The message delivered to me is that is different today than it was in January when decertification occurred. In listening to people here, they seemed pleased. There is an attitude that says they are solving the problem. A significant amount of money has been spent in refurbishing and remodeling. They are focusing on staffing and focusing on recertification. That was good to see and hear.”
Another area of concern for Moran was help for veterans, many of which reside in the state institutions.
“The VA [Veterans Affairs] does not pay for those services,” he said. “That may be a way at the federal level I can be of help is to get the department of Veteran Affairs to pay the bills for those who they are responsible for.”