Kansas officials have cleared an initial hurdle in their effort to regain federal certification for Osawatomie State Hospital.
Problems that federal inspectors cited in May have been fixed, making the state’s largest mental health hospital eligible for a full recertification inspection, according to the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services.
That inspection must take place within the next 120 days, according to KDADS Secretary Tim Keck.
“We have been waiting for this for a long time,” Keck said in a written statement. “We’re at third base, now we have to get home.”
Federal officials decertified the hospital in December 2015 after a patient attacked an employee and inspectors determined that staffing shortages and other issues had compromised security and patient care.
The decertification order made the hospital ineligible for federal Medicare payments. Their loss has cost the state approximately $20 million.
By the spring of this year, state officials believed they had addressed the staffing and security concerns that prompted the federal order. However, an inspection in May turned up new issues with sanitation and infection control.
Inspectors found problems with the main kitchen used by the hospital’s food service contractor. Their report said kitchen workers hadn’t been properly trained and noted garbage, “dead pests” and cobwebs in a food storage area.
The report alarmed state lawmakers.
“How did conditions in the kitchen get that bad?” Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, asked Keck earlier this month when he briefed members of the Legislature’s interim budget committee on efforts to regain federal certification.
Keck said hospital administrators are now more closely monitoring the performance of the private company that provides food services at the facility.
“We have somebody who goes in there every day,” he said. “We have a checklist they go over every day.”
The May inspection report also said that hospital staff hadn’t properly isolated patients with infectious illnesses from the general patient population.
This week’s re-inspection found “zero deficiencies,” according to KDADS.
“We want to keep going forward and continue to improve the treatment being provided to patients,” Keck said. “We won’t let up. We’ve come too far to slide back.”
The state is only seeking to recertify a 60-bed unit that has been renovated to address patient safety concerns that federal inspectors raised in 2015.
Those concerns also prompted hospital officials to impose a moratorium on voluntary admissions. Since then, only patients determined to be a danger to themselves or others have been admitted for treatment.
Meanwhile, KDADS is pushing to privatize Osawatomie State Hospital.
On Tuesday in Osawatomie, Keck gave hospital staff a first glimpse at a proposal by Tennessee-based Correct Care Solutions to operate the hospital. The cost of privatizing remains unclear, but part of the plan includes building new facilities, which Keck estimated would cost $100 million to $170 million.
Staff peppered Keck and representatives of Correct Care Solutions with questions ranging from how privatization would affect patients without insurance to what types of therapies Correct Care offers. Staff also are concerned about how the transition from state employees to private employees would affect their pensions and pay.
Many details won’t be clear until much later. KDADS will present privatization options to lawmakers next year.
— Kansas News Service reporter Celia Llopis-Jepsen contributed to this article.
Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and KMUW covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.