News Article Details

Private company could rebuild, run Kansas mental health hospital

Wichita Eagle - 8/16/2017

Aug. 16--OSAWATOMIE -- Lawmakers will have to decide next session whether to privatize one of the state's two psychiatric hospitals as part of an effort to overhaul the struggling facility.

Osawatomie State Hospital treats psychiatric patients who have been committed by a court order. Federal inspectors decertified the hospital in 2015 after raising concerns about patient safety. That move costs Kansas about $1 million a month in federal funds.

The agency that oversees the hospital on Tuesday rolled out a proposal from Correct Care Recovery Solutions, a company that runs health facilities nationwide, to build a new hospital at the current location and take over operations. The company is a division of Correct Care Solutions, which provided medical care in Kansas prisons for about a decade before another company took over several years ago.

The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services estimated the price tag for the new hospital could range from $100 million to $170 million. The company has not yet made a formal bid.

The agency is barred by law from privatizing the hospital without legislative approval. KDADS Secretary Tim Keck said he probably will seek approval in the session that begins in January.

"We have an opportunity going forward to create a new Osawatomie State Hospital and a great Osawatomie State Hospital from the building to the staffing to really everything," Keck told dozens of workers, area residents and mental health professionals at a forum at the hospital.

"We have the moment and the chance and the time to do that and we need to take that opportunity."

Lawmakers who attended were skeptical. Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Louisburg, said much of the logistics surrounding possible privatization had yet to be worked out.

"I'm still on the hesitant side. Very hesitant," Tyson said.

Lawmakers would have to determine whether to finance the new hospital through a lease-purchase agreement or by using bonds to borrow money. In a lease-purchase, a private company would lease the hospital back to the state for a number of years until the state purchases it at the end of the lease.

Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, said under either option, Kansas needs the ability to regain control of the facility if a private company fails to deliver quality service.

"The state needs to have total control of the building should it need it," he said.

Correct Care Recovery Solutions is the only company KDADS is considering to rebuild and run the hospital. Keck said another company sent in a proposal after the deadline.

The company plans to retain all current employees at the hospital if they can pass a background check and a drug test and meet the minimum qualifications for employment, which all current workers do.

The company has come under scrutiny in Florida. A 2015 investigation by The Tampa Bay Times and Sarasota Herald Tribune highlighted a half-dozen deaths at facilities run by Correct Care.

Keck said he toured five Correct Care facilities this spring and was impressed.

"When we visited their facilities, they were very well-run. Staff was happy, patients seemed happy," Keck said.

Osawatomie failed to regain federal certification after a survey in May, though state officials say the federal inspectors' report showed that safety and patient care had improved significantly. The report instead raised questions about the strength of hospital policies and cited problems with its kitchen and food services for patients.

The hospital has 206 beds, but it has been limiting its patient population to 146 for months because of issues raised by past federal surveys. Concepts for a new hospital on display on Tuesday would increase the total beds to about 260.

Contributing: The Associated Press

Jonathan Shorman: 785-296-3006, @jonshorman


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