How a hospital bed shortage is harming mental healthcare in rural Kansas

After Osawatomie (Kan.) State Hospital cut its bed count from 206 to 146 in 2015, a local mental health service provider is struggling to give sufficient care to those who need inpatient services, KOAM reports.

The Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center, which provides outpatient psychiatry, therapy, consultation, chemical abuse counseling and case management services in six Kansas counties, refers those who need inpatient care to Osawatomie. But for the last three years, Osawatomie's bed shortage has caused the hospital to turn away these patients.  

Osawatomie had to cut its bed count by 60 beds in 2015 to save its credentials and conform to regulations.

"We're determining outpatient services are insufficient to keep this person safe in the community. But then we're being tasked with doing just that: trying to keep them safe in the community. And unfortunately that often means law enforcement has to become involved," SEKMHC Clinical Director Doug Wright told KOAM.

The care SEKMHC provides to patients who may need inpatient care has led to higher workloads and funding needs for the health center.

"The crisis therapists that we have on staff are having to invest a lot more time, 3 or 4 more times [the] time it would have previously taken them to assess and coordinate care," said SEKMHC Executive Director Nathan Fawson.

But Mr. Fawson said the bed count situation at Osawatomie has been slowly improving.

"I've been encouraged by Osawatomie's slow but increasing bed count. Although they reduced by 60 beds in 2015, they within this recent year or so, have incrementally increased some, which has lessened the wait list, but nonetheless, it remains a stressful factor," he said.

Until the hospital's bed count returns to 2015 levels or higher, SEKMHC's costs will continue to be higher than they should be, Mr. Fawson said.

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