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Fewer workers caring for more patients at state hospitals

State hospitals for the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled have not replaced many employees who’ve quit or accepted Gov. Sam Brownback’s invitation to take early retirement.

At the same time, the number of patients at the hospitals has remained flat or increased.

That means fewer workers caring for more patients.

The governor’s budget proposal for the coming fiscal year would allow for 2,298 full-time positions at the five state hospitals, or 311 fewer slots than there were in fiscal 2011 and about 100 fewer than the current fiscal year.

Democratic members of the House Appropriations Committee said this week that the reduced hospital workforce was causing problems.

“At Osawatomie State Hospital we have 55 fewer FTE’s (full-time equivalent employees) than we had in the fiscal 2011 budget and we’re running over (patient) capacity,” said Rep. Bill Feuerborn of Garnett, the committee’s ranking Democrat.

Feuerborn said 13 employees at Osawatomie took the administration’s offer of early retirement. Only three of those positions were refilled. The additional vacancies occurred from people quitting or otherwise leaving the hospital’s roster.

Feuerborn’s district includes Osawatomie State Hospital, the largest of the state’s three hospitals for the mentally ill.

The committee, dominated by Republicans, debated four of the five state hospitals’ budgets on Monday, approving all four in line with the governor’s spending recommendations.

“I’m hearing from several employees who are concerned about safety issues and mandatory overtime,” Feuerborn said. “They work eight hours and then they’re told they mandatorily have to work another eight hours. But they’re not paid overtime. They’re given comp time that they have to be given permission to use.”

Feuerborn told KHI News Service he thought the arrangement might be a violation of labor laws.

“These are people who are working under a lot of stress,” he said.

Officials at the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services said it was legal to require employees to work double shifts.

Feuerborn also said the other state hospitals were not replacing employees who had been fired or quit.

“We have 58 fewer employees at Parsons State Hospital than we did two years ago,” Feuerborn said.

The hospitals are under the broad supervision of SRS, but the individual hospital superintendents manage each somewhat differently.

Parsons State Hospital, for example, has reported that its overtime costs increased 139 percent in the current fiscal year, which began July 1, 2011.

Budget documents provided to legislators also showed Kansas Neurological Institute in Topeka losing 16 full-time positions in the proposed budget for fiscal 2013.

KNI and Parsons State Hospital care for people with severe developmental disabilities.

Addressing concerns

“Across the board, about a hundred positions at the state hospitals have been lost” in the past year, said Rep. Jerry Henry, a Cummings Democrat.

Henry, echoing concerns he said he heard from hospital workers, said the facilities were “OK when nobody’s sick or on vacation, or there’s a holiday. But when somebody is sick or on vacation or there’s a holiday, we’re in trouble.”

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