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Report: Kan. state hospitals face staffing crisis

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- A program launched last year by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback to cut the state's workforce has resulted in major staffing problems at state hospitals, according to a report presented to the House Appropriations Committee.

Brownback's administration says more than 1,000 employees took advantage of the governor's early retirement program, which offered health insurance benefits and one-time payment incentives to state workers. The buyout is expected to save the state $34.5 million over two years, The Lawrence Journal-World ( ) reported.

The early retirements have resulted in low pay, long hours and dangerous working conditions at the state hospitals, according to the report legislative staffers presented Friday.

Larned State Hospital, which houses the state's sexual predator treatment program, is so understaffed that it could lose accreditation from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, the report said. Loss of accreditation would cost the state $14.5 million in federal funds.

"We need to keep reviewing what is happening," said state Rep. Jerry Henry, a Cummings Democrat. "I hope the governor gets the message."

The report said the current vacancy rate at Larned for physicians is 45.8 percent; registered nurses, 27 percent; and licensed practical nurses, 44 percent.

Pay for physicians and nurses at Larned is below what is being paid in surrounding areas, the report said. To cope with the high vacancy rate, overtime wages at Larned increased 723 percent from February 2011 to the same month this year.

Osawatomie State Hospital and Rainbow Mental Health Facility lost at total of 20 employees to the early retirement program, but were allowed to fill only two of the vacated positions. Parsons State Hospital lost 18 positions because of the program and has kept 31 other positions open because of budget problems, while overtime at the hospital has risen 114 percent over last year.

All of the state's hospitals report that recruiting and retaining staff members is difficult because salaries are lower than in surrounding areas, and because of the long hours employees are expected to put in, the report said.


Information from: Lawrence Journal-World,