TOPEKA — Kansas will keep both of its state hospitals for the mentally disabled open for now but will move some patients into community programs, Gov. Mark Parkinson announced Tuesday.
Parkinson rejected an advisory commission's proposal to close the Kansas Neurological Institute in Topeka. The commission's plan would have moved some KNI patients to the Parsons State Hospital and Training Center and some into community programs.
But in an executive order, Parkinson embraced moving some disabled Kansans out of the hospitals and into less restrictive settings. He ordered the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services to set new standards for admitting patients to the hospitals and to help build up community programs, so that patients can be moved into them.
He said the population reductions at both hospitals could allow the state to close either one in three or four years.
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"There has been a national trend for at least 30 years to transition people out of institutions and help them find services in the community," Parkinson wrote in a blog posting on his Web site. "Some, but not all of the residents at KNI and Parsons are appropriate for a community setting."
Parkinson's order does not say how many patients from either hospital will be moved into community programs. But SRS officials think 49 of KNI's 158 patients and 62 of Parsons' 191 patients could be eligible for community programs.
The national trend is to have people with mental disabilities live in groups of six or fewer. A University of Colorado study in 2008 said that in 1990, 23 percent of mentally disabled Americans lived in such group homes, but by 2006, the figure was 70 percent.
Many advocates for the disabled also note community services are less expensive. Kansas estimates a patient's care at KNI costs $149,000 a year, while community services cost $41,000.
Rep. Bob Bethell, R-Alden, who served on the advisory commission, noted that cost difference.
"The governor has decided to let the status quo sit, and that truly disturbs me," Bethell said.
Parkinson said that while moving patients into community settings makes sense, the state still has more patients with severe disabilities than a single state hospital can handle. He also said he thinks the state always will need at least one hospital for Kansans whose disabilities are severe.
The proposal to close KNI had brought protests from both Topeka-area legislators and the largest union for state employees, partly over the potential loss of about 500 jobs there.
And Rep. Joe Patton, R-Topeka, said, "I am pleased the governor recognizes closing KNI and moving its residents to Parsons would not be in their best interests."