Can you imagine going to your job at a state hospital for the mentally ill, knowing a patient had raped one of your coworkers, knowing the mandatory 10- and 15-minute patient security checks go ignored, knowing the place is short-staffed by nearly 40 percent? That is exactly the situation at Osawatomie State Hospital, just 45 miles southwest of Kansas City, on the Kansas side.
The patient who raped the mental health technician at Osawatomie had a history of trying to strangle his wife. Three days after the employee’s rape, inspectors with the federal Centers For Medicare And Medicaid Service (CMS) discovered that the hospital failed to meet the requirements for 24-hour nursing, too short-staffed to perform security round checks and supervise patients in showers and bathrooms.
The report said:
‘The cumulative effect of the systemic failure to supervise the provision of care, to perform required safety checks and to protect suicidal patients from hanging risks placed all patients receiving services at risk for harm.’
The attacker’s name was not released by the hospital, but Miami County Attorney Elizabeth Sweeney-Reeder charged 42-year-old Aaron C. Goodman of Hartford Kans. with rape. The raped employee told the inspectors, she was taking the patient a gown about 8:30 p.m., when he grabbed her and placed his hand over her mouth.
‘I was trying to scream and was banging on the walls and he raped me.’
She said that two patients came to her rescue before any staff arrived. The hospital admitted Goodman involuntarily with a diagnosis of psychosis, earlier that day. According to the report, he could be admitted against his will, due to the likelihood he would cause:
‘…substantial physical injury or abuse to himself or others.’
The hospital gave the patient mandatory 15-minute checks for possible suicide. Even though another mental health technician logged an 8:30 p.m. check, indicating the patient was in the room resting or sleeping, the actual observation did not appear on the security video. The video also showed that between 8 and 9 p.m., none of the staff performed the mandatory 10-minute hallway security checks.
In December, the CMS decertified the Osawatomie hospital, which costs the state nearly $1 million in lost federal funds per month. This is just one more example of the consequences of Governor Brownback’s failed budget experiment.
The CMS’s deficiency report showed “systemic failure” in security, supervision, and protecting suicidal patients. As a result of the state’s malfeasance, the federal government withdrew Medicare funds from the hospital.
That means Kansans have to pay for all of their care at the hospital. After the Reagan era of deinstitutionalization, which was an experiment, a 1981 New York Times editorial decried it “a cruel embarrassment, a reform gone terribly wrong…regarded as a major failure.”
Director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees Rebecca Proctor said that Osawatomie is chronically understaffed. Kansas authorized the hospital for 501 full-time positions, last May there were 189 vacant positions. By the end of January, Osawatomie and it sister hospital in Larned, Kans. had a combined vacancy rate of about 38 percent. Proctor said:
‘I think it’s important to remember that the state made the very purposeful decision to exacerbate that problem when those 110 jobs were transferred from Rainbow Mental Health [now closed] in Kansas City to Osawatomie.’
‘I mean, they already had not been able to get in enough to fill those open positions. So what did they do? They moved 110 more positions down there as well as patient load that went with it.’
According to The Associated Press, interim secretary of the Department for Aging and Disability Services, Tim Keck, who oversees Osawatomie said:
‘They’ve [the legislature] made a commitment to us, that we’ll get what we need.’
Rep. Jerry Henry, ranking Democratic member of the House Appropriations Committee, said:
‘It’s almost a given they have to do that.’
In the meantime, Keck said he is providing workers with a personal alarm button, and:
‘Brownback is considering pay raises for nurses and mental health technicians. The administration estimates that a 10 percent increase at both hospitals would cost $4.2 million a year.’
Keck told legislators that his department is considering privatization for Osawatomie and will form a study group involving legislators. He also said it would take months to request proposals from “interested companies.”
Republican Sen. Molly Baumgardner, said lawmakers need to see a plan showing how such a move would improve care and, perhaps, decrease costs to be comfortable with the idea. She said:
‘We’ve not seen any of that.’
Brilliant solution, can’t afford to staff a hospital for the mentally ill, then put a for-profit corporation between the patient and the state. This is the typical Republican move: defund, criticize, privatize.