At a legislative hearing Wednesday, a member of Gov. Sam Brownback’s cabinet floated a plan to privatize the state’s hospital in Osawatomie.
Tim Keck, the interim secretary of the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, confirmed that an amendment his agency would like to add to SB 460 would enable the agency to pursue privatizing the embattled hospital, which lost its Medicare certification in December over concerns that short staffing had created an unsafe environment.
The underlying bill deals with increasing the number of unclassified employees at the state hospital, something which the Kansas Organization of State Employees says is already within the agency’s power.
Earlier in the session, lawmakers passed a budget provision that bars the governor from privatizing the hospital without legislative approval.
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The amendment Keck presented to the Senate Ways and Means Committee would allow the agency to put out a request for procurement to for-profit and nonprofit entities to enter into a public-private partnership in the state to run the psychiatric hospital.
Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, repeatedly pressed Keck to define the phrase “public-private partnership” and clarify what the public role would be.
Keck said he considered the terms “privatization” and “public-private partnership” to be synonymous and said that the state would always maintain an oversight role over the hospital.
The proposed amendment would allow the State Finance Council, a special committee made up of the governor and legislative leaders, to approve such a partnership.
“I want legislative engagement on this,” Keck said.
Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, whose district includes the hospital, said that the amendment runs counter to the Legislature’s earlier intent to make sure it had a role in any decision to privatize.
Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, the committee’s chair and a member of the council, objected to that and said that the council is primarily made up of the Legislature’s leaders.
“Hand-picked,” Tyson replied, saying that this would leave the decision over a $30 million contract in the hands of a few lawmakers and the governor.
Rebecca Proctor, executive director of KOSE, the union that represents state workers, said that approving the bill “allows any privatization to happen very quietly” without public hearings.