State’s mental health system in triage

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opinions

June 29, 2015 - 12:00 AM

Last week, Osawatomie State Hospital stopped admitting new patients.
The hospital lacks adequate space and personnel to handle any more. The freeze puts the burden on local resources — community mental health centers, hospitals and jails — to handle the mentally ill.
The cause is inadequate funding for facilities and employees.
Staffing at Osawatomie is 40 percent shy of what is needed.
According to the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services, the agency that oversees the state’s two mental hospitals in Osawatomie and Larned, Osawatomie should have 501 full-time positions. Currently, 189 of those positions are vacant. At Larned, staffing is expected to be 930 full-time positions. Currently, 322 of those are vacant.
In terms of space, demand far exceeds capability. Last summer Osawatomie was licensed to treat 206 patients but was cited by federal regulators for treating about 50 patients above that number.
The feds said this overcrowding and lack of adequate staff was an endangerment to patients. To comply with federal regulators, the hospital is undergoing $3 million worth of renovations. During construction, the hospital has capped its patient load to 147.
It makes one shudder to think what conditions at Osawatomie could lead to had they not been addressed.
In fact, they could be related to a recent fatality, as detailed in Sunday’s Kansas City Star.
James Brown, the father of Brandon Brown of Haviland, contends the shortages at Osawatomie forced the early release of his son who had been a patient there. The son is charged with homicide against a fellow resident at Haviland Care Center, an assisted living facility west of Wichita. Brandon Brown had been dismissed from Osawatomie after only one week of treatment for exhibiting a violent nature.
Brown’s father contends his son, who has a history of mental illness, was not only released prematurely but also without adequate follow-up.

WHETHER THE DOTS  can be connected in the Brown case is irrelevant to the greater issue of a state mental health system that is failing its citizens.
Local hospitals are not equipped to handle those with severe and persistent mental illness and asking them to do so jeopardizes not only those who need this kind of specific care but also a hospital’s staff and its patients. Likewise, a jail is not designed to care for the mentally ill and places them in an unsuitable environment to help them progress.
Clearly, the state needs to devote more resources to the state’s mental health system by creating more space and compensating staff in a rewarding manner.
By helping the needy, we help society at large.
  — Susan Lynn

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