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Dire situation continues to deteriorate for patients, staff at Osawatomie State Mental Hospital

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OSAWATOMIE, Kan. -- "A crisis in staffing. A crisis in funding. A crisis in capacity," that was the way a lobbyist for the Kansas Mental Health Coalition described the situation at Osawatomie State Mental Hospital.

Amy Campbell was describing to members just how bad things are at Osawatomie. The hospital is losing more than $1.5 million a month since the federal government yanked all funding, citing deplorable conditions, according to a legislative leader.

It's a problem FOX 4 Problem Solvers warned about last November after a young female employee reported being raped by a patient. Since then, insiders tell FOX 4, problems have grown worse for both patients and employees.

"The scariest thing is that there is nobody that is qualified in charge," said a former supervisor who left Osawatomie in the last year.

We agreed to hide her face to protect her professionally. She told Problem Solvers she worried about putting her own state license in jeopardy because of the high rate of patients who are either hurt or die because of poor care from a chronically overworked staff.

She said when employees call in sick, especially at night, there is often no back-up plan.

"You might have one nurse running two buildings of 60 patients," she said.

Those who come to work are often exhausted because they are required to work double, and even triple shifts to make up for a workforce that has a 39 percent of its positions vacant.

"There were all kinds of mistakes," the supervisor said. "You forget to do things. You miss a medication."

The situation has grown so dire that the Kansas Legislature is paying attention, holding hearings where lawmakers are demanding answers from the state officials in charge at the Department of Disability and Aging.

"We are making sure we hold our administrators feet to the fire and get it done," said Kansas Majority Leader Jene Vickrey.

But Vickrey could not explain how Kansas will pay for the changes federal regulators say are needed to improve the hospital. He insisted that taxes don't need to be raised.

"It's not an ability of government to raise money; it's a focus on where to spend money," Vickrey said. When a reporter asked what other government program should be cut to free up more money for Osawatomie, he had no answer.

"I guess that's a tough question," Vickrey said.

Few understand the consequences of Osawatomie better than James Brown. His son Brandon murdered someone last year, just seven days after being released from Osawatomie. Brown said he would never have agreed to have his son released if he had known he was still in "guarded" condition. But he said the hospital insisted.

"They needed a bed," Brown said.

Now Brown regularly appears at mental health meetings, fighting for better services. But he said that every year in Kansas, the services get worse.

"It's horrifying," he said.

One of the options Kansas is considering is privatizing Osawatomie, but legislative leaders worry that if the hospital is run by a private company, lawmakers would have even less oversight. A spokeswoman for the Department of Disability and Aging said Kansas is in the process of hiring a consultant to determine how best to solve the problems at Osawatomie, so that the hospital can once again qualify for federal funds.

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