In the name of increased efficiency, the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services has announced plans to eliminate about 57 jobs at two state hospitals that serve Kansans with mental illness and developmental disabilities.
Efficiency is a good thing when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars, but state officials must be sure that the vulnerable Kansans being cared for at these two institutions are receiving the services they depend on.
KDADS Secretary Shawn Sullivan estimated the reduction of jobs at Kansas Neurological Institute in Topeka and Larned State Hospital would save the state more than $3 million over the next two years. That money will be used, he said, to cover recent pay raises to some hospital workers, hire more psychiatrists at Larned, offset expected cuts in federal aid to the facilities and help move people with developmental disabilities off the Medicaid waiting list for home-based services. His intention, he added, is to plow all of the savings back into the hospitals and related programs and not return them to the state general fund, although he acknowledged that would require the cooperation of legislators on appropriations committees who might have other uses for that money.
Three million dollars is a significant amount, and it’s understandable that some employees at Larned and KHI don’t believe there is that much fat in their budgets. Larned employees point to staffing that already is inadequate, requiring many direct care workers to put in 15 to 30 hours of overtime a week. The consultant’s report that is the basis for the position cuts agrees that more direct care workers are needed, but said that other services at the hospital are overstaffed so resources can be reallocated. The consultant actually recommended cutting 50 positions at Larned, but state officials settled on eliminating about 22 jobs.
The consultant also contended that many of the patients at Larned, as well as at Osawatomie State Hospital (which was the topic of a report issued in September) probably could leave the hospital if they had more access to community treatment options. A particular need is for “intermediate” mental health care facilities that focus on crisis stabilization and clients with drug and alcohol problems, and Sullivan said plans will be announced soon to provide that kind of intermediate care at the now-closed Rainbow Mental Health Facility in Kansas City, Kan.
Such a facility could be a big help, especially in this part of the state, but it won’t eliminate the increasing pressure on community mental health centers to take up the slack for reduced state services for people with mental illness. It’s great to place people with mental health issues back in community settings, but the state also needs to provide the necessary financial support for community services that makes that shift possible.
As noted above, efficiency is a good goal, but, too often, changes billed as “efficiencies” simply amount to a reduction in spending and services for Kansans in need. We hope that won’t be the case with the changes being proposed at Larned and KNI.