|Murder charges against a former patient at Osawatomie State |
Hospital is prompting questions about mental health system.
On May 14, Brandon Brown, 30, was released from a five-day stay at Osawatomie. He was sent to the state hospital after threatening other patients at the Haviland Care Center, a nursing facility in Kiowa County that specializes in treating adults with serious and persistent mental illness.
Brown, who has long struggled with schizophrenia, was returned to Haviland and on May 17 allegedly assaulted Jerry Martinez, 61, another patient there. Martinez was flown by air ambulance to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, where he died 18 days later.
Brown, who now is being held in a locked security unit at Larned State Hospital, has been charged with second-degree murder.
“The allegations are that he pulled the victim out of bed and slammed his head to the floor several times,” said Kiowa County Attorney Scott James.
The Haviland incident and a recent report in the Topeka Capital-Journal about staffing shortages are intensifying concerns about operations at the state’s two hospitals for people with mental illness. The newspaper report said that nearly 40 percent of the full-time staff positions at Osawatomie State Hospital and 35 percent of those at Larned State Hospital recently were vacant.
“I’ve had a few incidents like this now,” James said. “I have to say they do lead me to wonder if the pressures — whether they be staffing pressures or budget pressures — are really starting to tax these mental health entities to a degree that’s not healthy for the state. I mean, if the state hospital isn’t there to house Mr. Brown, who is it there to house?”
James’ question is at the center of a long-simmering debate over the role of the state’s mental health hospitals in Osawatomie and Larned since lawmakers in the mid-1990s decided to close Topeka State Hospital and expand the state’s network of community-based programs.
This shift from institutional care to in-community care was driven by a desire to provide treatment that is less expensive, more effective and more humane.
But there are growing concerns about the adequacy of the safety net for those who continue to need intensive, inpatient care.
“This is all about having enough ‘ports in the storm’ for when people are in crisis,” said Frank Denning, sheriff of Johnson County. “When 17 percent of the people in (Johnson County) jail have been diagnosed as having a serious and persistent mental illness, it means we don’t have enough ‘ports.’ And when Osawatomie stopped taking voluntary admissions, it leaves us with fewer ‘ports.’”
KDADS officials limited voluntary admissions at the Osawatomie hospital late last year after federal inspectors cited the facility for having too many patients and inadequate staffing levels, and for not doing enough to protect potentially suicidal patients.
Patients admitted voluntarily are those who have been deemed to be potentially dangerous to themselves or others but have not committed a crime and haven’t been sent for treatment under a court order. The limit on voluntary admissions was intended to reduce the patient census at the 206-bed hospital, which had a record 260 patients in October 2014.
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