Topeka Gov. Sam Brownback is asking the Legislature for approximately $2 million to increase staff at Larned State Hospital, which is in danger of losing its federal certification and $14.5 million per year.
Kansas Department on Aging Secretary Shawn Sullivan said Thursday $993,000 is needed to hire 23 direct care staff at the hospital for the mentally ill. Another $940,000 is needed to increase pay for nurses.
Recently, the hospital was cited by the Joint Commission, a national organization that accredits hospitals, for a number of deficiencies related to inadequate staffing. Failure to address the under-staffing would trigger a possible loss of federal funding for the hospital, which includes the state's sexual predator treatment program.
State officials said the inability to fill vacancies was caused by low pay compared with the market rate for the same jobs elsewhere.
Many employees at Larned were being forced to work an extra 12 hours to 24 hours per week because of the lack of staff. Overtime wages had increased a whopping 723 percent over the past year.
Larned had a 45.8 percent vacancy rate for physicians and psychiatrists; 44 percent for licensed practical nurses; and 27 percent for registered nurses.
Under the proposal, the current pay range for a senior registered nurse would increase from $23.31 to $31.22 per hour to $25.68 to $34.42 per hour. The pay range for a senior licensed practical nurse would increase from $14.30 to $19.16 per hour to $15.03 to $20.13 per hour.
Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee said staffing problems at all the state's mental health hospitals should be addressed, including vacancies that have been left unfilled due to Brownback's voluntary retirement program.
State hospitals in Parsons, Osawatomie and Kansas City, Kan. have also reported being understaffed and having ballooning overtime costs.
"We need to look at this voluntary retirement issue," said state Rep. Jerry Henry, D-Cummings. He said some agencies have been able to keep those positions vacant, but in the health care area that produces more problems.
"When you deal with personal and human issues, you can't just turn off the lights and walk away and say we'll get to this in the morning," he said.
But Secretary Sullivan said the administration wanted to take a more comprehensive look at staffing needs at the other state hospitals, while addressing the immediate certification concern at Larned.
Last year, the Brownback administration launched an early retirement program, offering health insurance benefits and one-time payment incentives to reduce the state's workforce. The administration said more than 1,000 employees took advantage of the program and that it would save $34.5 million over two years.