Despite opposition from advocates for the disabled, welfare leaders are asking state legislators to approve more than $400,000 to reopen a wing of Parsons State Hospital.
The hospital is one of two remaining state-run institutions for the developmentally disabled.
"State institutions are the pigs of the service system," said Rocky Nichols, director of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas. "Opening up a new cottage is putting lipstick on that pig."
But reopening the wing, officials say, would reduce overcrowding at Parsons, moving between 10 and 22 people into the now-closed facility, called Willow Cottage.
It's the second straight year officials from Kansas Social and Rehabilitation Services have posed the request. Last year, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and the Legislature denied SRS the money.
But this year, SRS also is seeking a massive federal grant to help move people out of institutions such as the Parsons hospital and into community settings.
So the advocates, such as Nichols, ask: Why open a new wing, even as the state touts its intention to shift services for the disabled out of institutions?
The complaints are just part of simmering frustration over the state's handling of the grant proposal.
The Money Follows the Person grant would give the state part of $1.75 billion in federal funding during the next five years to move the disabled and elderly in state and private institutions into their own homes or smaller, community-based group homes. The grant application is due Nov. 1.
Recent research shows it costs far less to house someone in a community setting than it does in an institution. The state hopes that moving people out of large group settings, though more expensive initially, will save money down the road.
So far, SRS has given every indication that if it gets the grant, it will use most of the money to move seniors out of nursing homes rather than moving the disabled out of Parsons and Kansas Neurological Institute in Topeka.
"From the beginning, the state's goal and emphasis with the grant was to downsize private facilities for the elderly," said Tom Laing, director of InterHab, a disability rights resource network in Topeka.
But Laing and other advocates said if people do move from institutions, they would prefer those state-funded beds be closed.
The state, however, has given no indication it would use the grant money to close beds at Parsons or KNI - even after cries from advocates to do so.
Nichols from the Disability Rights Center cited recent abuse findings at KNI and other problems as reason enough to close the institutions he calls "dinosaurs." He also cited statistics that show it costs hundreds of dollars less a day to house a person in the community than in an institution.
But state officials said moving the disabled into community settings first requires the infrastructure for that be in place - including places to stay, nurses and professionals to provide in-home care.
"I think that we want to include a broader focus than just seniors," SRS spokesman Kyle Kessler said. "But at the same time, we are trying to build that capacity" to accommodate the disabled now in state hospitals in community settings.
Disenchantment with the direction the state has been taking with the grant application, which is still in development, led to a meeting last week between disability advocates and Jennifer Crow, a staff member in Sebelius' office.
Jane Rhys, director of the Kansas Council on Developmental Disabilities, said Crow wasn't aware the grant wouldn't focus on closing beds at state institutions and said the governor's office would look into it.
In a brief statement, Sebelius Press Secretary Nicole Corcoran said the office's focus has always been to help people live in the setting of their choice, whether in a group setting or in the community.
That, in essence, is the reason SRS officials say they're leaving beds open at Parsons and KNI, even if they get the grant.
"It's sort of a measure of flexibility," Kessler said. "To box ourselves in (with only home and community services), it limits the way we treat folks."