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Archive for Sunday, January 25, 2009

Service scrutiny

Looking at increased efficiency for state facilities must be more than an exercise in shifting responsibility.

January 25, 2009

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It never hurts for the state to look at ways to deliver services more efficiently or at less cost to taxpayers.

However, saving money shouldn’t be the singular focus of a new commission charged with looking at the possibility of closing a number of state facilities, including facilities that serve juvenile offenders and Kansans with various disabilities.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius issued an executive order Thursday creating the “Facilities Closure and Realignment Commission.” The commission was specifically instructed to consider the futures of the Kansas School for the Deaf, Kansas School for the Blind, Beloit Juvenile Correctional Facility, the Rainbow Mental Health Facility and two state hospitals for people with developmental disabilities.

In making the announcement, Sebelius said, “In these unprecedented economic times, we must examine all state operations to determine if savings can be realized by suspending, merging or streamlining programs.”

That is a valid goal, but efforts in the governor’s current proposed budget to simply transfer the state’s budget pain to local governments and social service entities without any additional financial support raises some concerns.

It could be that some of the people being served by these facilities could be better served, perhaps even at lower cost, by community programs. It also is possible that some state facilities could be realigned to better serve their intended mission or their intended population. The state, for instance, has shown success in moving juvenile offenders out of correctional facilities and into less restrictive group homes.

What shouldn’t happen is for the state, pressured by “unprecedented economic times,” to start closing or making changes in facilities to save money without having a clear plan for how those changes will affect the people being served by state facilities. Mental health facilities, for instance, already are taxed, often beyond capacity. Many of the people currently in various state facilities present special challenges that have made it difficult for them to move to community facilities.

Perhaps there now are better ways to provide these services, but the commission must be very sure it knows what those ways are — and where the funds will come from to support them — before considering the closing of additional state facilities.

This is the kind of issue that would be unlikely to arise during less dire economic times, although any time is a good time to look at more efficient use of taxpayer money. The key is to make sure the state isn’t allowing financial pressures to force it into penny-wise, pound-foolish actions that are unfair to those who receive state services or those who provide them.

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