By CRISTINA JANNEY
Sen. Rick Billinger, R-Goodland, has introduced a bill that would require the Kansas Department of Aging Disability Services to provide acute care psychiatric beds for juveniles in western Kansas.
SB-407 would require KDADS to provide 12 acute care psychiatric beds for juveniles in Hays and Garden City or the surrounding communities.
KVC Hospital-Hays closed the only juvenile acute care psychiatric beds in western Kansas in October, citing changes in regulations that would not allow youth in acute care to be housed in the same space as youth in residential care.
"Someone shows up in Hays, and they say, 'Sorry, we no longer have the acute care beds here. You have to go to Wichita or Kansas City.' Most of the time Wichita is full," Billinger said. "We have such a shortage of beds right now, opening these 24 up will help, but it is going to be not nearly enough beds to take care of the kids with needs."
Acute care beds are reserved for youth in need of temporary intense treatment and who may be a danger to themselves or others.
"What's happening is when these folks show up in Hays now and they say you have to go on to Kansas City, these parents are saying, 'Sorry, that is not an option,'and they are taking these children home without any treatment.
"My concern is someone hurting themselves or someone else. ... It would be a tragedy. We need to take care of these kids, and we are going to figure out a way to do it."
Walt Hill, director of High Plains Mental Health, confirmed parents and guardians are resorting to traveling to Kansas City, out of state or forgoing in-patient treatment for their children because of the lack of acute care beds.
"There is great need for this, and a great interest in this," he said. "I think it is just a matter of getting it moved on toward the finish line."
KDADS conducted a listening tour in western Kansas during the last several weeks, and Hill said the acute care beds has been a point of concern.
"I think those options were still wide open in those discussions, looking at different communities and different partners and they looked at different potential physical facilities," Hill said. "I am not exactly sure what the next steps are. I think that probably rests with KDADS."
The Hays Post tried to contact KDADS for comment, but a phone call was not returned.
Billinger's bill would require KDADS to provide the beds without additional funding. However, he said if that proved to be a stumbling block for the legislation, he would seek additional funding for the project.
Billinger's bill has been referred to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, but has not been scheduled for a hearing as turn around looms at the statehouse. This is the deadline for all bills to be moved to the opposite house of the Legislature for hearings.
KVC is moving forward with turning the space it was using for acute care beds into residential treatment psychiatric beds. This type of treatment generally lasts 30 to 90 days and is for youth who have been stabilized.
Kansas has about 200 children on a waiting list for residential treatment with a wait time of about five months.