The fate of Osawatomie State Hospital and mental health in Kansas was discussed by lawmakers Saturday morning at the third Legislative Coffee hosted by the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce. Kansas State Sen. Caryn Tyson and Rep. Baine Finch both agreed that keeping the hospital open is a priority for mental health.

Tyson said the Senate Ways and Means committee met Friday and there are many in Topeka who oppose the hospital

“I want to put that on your radar in a big way,” she said. “We have legislators from Wichita, legislators from Johnson County that their priority is not Osawatomie. We need to form a coalition, a strong coalition, and be a strong advocate for the hospital and for mental health.”

In his opening statement, Finch said he was proud of the work his committee is doing on creating crisis intervention centers for at-risk youth as an alternative to youth prisons. He was questioned by an audience member about how intervention programs would be established if they closed the state hospital.

“We would be looking at using the money we saved by closing down some of the juvenile prisons and using that money instead to create crisis intervention centers where we can do that,” he said. “The possibility of privatizing Osawatomie State Hospital is still out there and being discussed. They have lobbyists that are making the rounds in the state Legislature and trying to convince us why this is a good idea in their opinion. I’m not sold that it’s a good idea quite frankly. We need to be investing in mental health facilities and mental health beds for people who are in crisis and people who need inpatient treatment.”

Finch said he was disappointed with the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services (KDADS) for the way they have approached mental health in Kansas.

“We need to be investing in our community mental health centers so people that need outpatient services can get them,” he said. “I’m very frustrated with KDADS at the state that they have not moved swiftly to get all the beds reopened at Osawatomie. In my opinion it’s a dereliction of their duty. I believe it’s precipitating a crisis so that they can privatize the facility and try to make a case to get someone in there and build a 100 bed facility and operate it privately. I disagree with that approach.”

Tyson agreed that privatization is not a good approach. Tyson said she believes Miami County would work as a partner with the state to make a new facility a reality, but there are still roadblocks at the state level.

“The reality is we’ve got 20 senators of 40 that are from the five largest counties in the state,” she said. “And we have 125 state reps, 25 of those state reps touch one county alone, Johnson County. Eight of the 40 senators touch one county, Johnson County.

“We are outnumbered in leadership and in the caucus and they have been having meetings about what the options were for the state. Yesterday, the chair of Ways and Means announced that we need the regional facilities and we may not need to build anything or to do anything in Osawatomie. I don’t know if this is a reality check, if she was just speaking off the cuff or if someone misheard her, but the reality is, I think we need to increase the number of beds in Osawatomie.”

The next legislative coffee will be April 14 at in the commission chambers at City Hall, 101 S. Hickory St., Ottawa.