Kansas officials approved $15 million for the construction of a new 50-bed mental health hospital in the Wichita region on Wednesday.
The state finance council, made up of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and legislative leaders from both parties, voted unanimously to allow the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability to begin using $15 million allocated in last year’s budget for the new hospital. .
The potential hospital was the subject of an interim legislative committee this summer that explored solutions to Kansas’ need for additional mental health resources.
Existing mental health hospitals in Kansas, Larned State Hospital in western Kansas and Osawatomie State Hospital near the KC Metro, have been plagued by waiting lists and understaffing.
“South central Kansas accounts for 50 percent of the people transported to Larned,” said incoming House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, at a Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce event last week. Wichita. “It doesn’t take long to realize that we need a mental health center here in Wichita.”
Lawmakers hope the construction of the additional hospital in the Wichita region will ease some of the stress on other institutions and remove staff from one of the state’s major population centers.
In addition to the $15 million in state dollars, Sedgwick County has requested another $25 million for the project from the state committee charged with disbursing $374 million in American Bailout Act dollars.
“This is something the county has been trying to start for years at this point, so to officially have that in the budget is a big deal,” Sedgwick County Commissioner Sarah Lopez said Wednesday.
“It changes a lot for our community because right now our largest mental health hospital is our jail, and that’s just unacceptable. . . Allowing for at least 50 more beds with the potential for more to come will be an incredible asset to not only Sedgwick County but our entire region and our state.”
While the state budget specifically allocated funds for a 50-bed hospital, lawmakers have asked KDADS to make sure the facility has room to grow beyond 50 beds.
Hawkins previously said that the proposed hospital might not be big enough, indicating that he would like to see the project expanded to better meet the needs of south central Kansas.
“They tell me that if we just do a 50-bed hospital, it’s going to be full before we start, so it’s probably going to have to be a little over 50,” Hawkins told The Wichita Eagle this fall.
Larned hospital has 525 beds, according to KDAD, and funds approved for renovation at Osawatomie State Hospital will increase bed capacity from 163 to 218 within the next year.
Hawkins said he would like to see a private company, not the state itself, in charge of running a facility in the Wichita area. The Larned and Osawatomie facilities are state operated.
“We shouldn’t be operating mental health facilities,” Hawkins said. “Privatize it. We will build it, but let it be run by a private company that has experience running a mental health hospital.”
Lopez said she doesn’t have a particular preference on whether the hospital is publicly or privately run.
“The State can do whatever it wants. If the state wants a third party to come and run it, perfectly fine. As they see fit, but it’s not going to be Sedgwick County running it,” Lopez said.
A location for the psychiatric hospital has yet to be chosen, but the approval of state funding comes as Wichita State University and the University of Kansas Medical Center move forward with plans to build a $302 million, 470,000-foot hospital. squares. Health Sciences Education Center in the heart of downtown Wichita.
This story was originally published December 21, 2022 2:53 p.m.