Audit cites facility's staffing shortage

9/13/2013

By MARY CLARKIN

By MARY CLARKIN

Special to The Telegram

LARNED — A newly issued state audit spotlighted the chronic staffing shortage at Larned State Hospital's Sexual Predator Treatment Program and suggested that relocating the program might be a solution.

The state agency overseeing the facility, however, called that a "premature" recommendation.

Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services Secretary Shawn Sullivan also pointed out state statute dictates the program is at Larned State Hospital.

"Much progress has been made in improving recruitment and retention efforts, which has resulted in decreases in overtime and vacant positions," Sullivan also wrote in response.

The Legislature's major budget committees requested that the Legislative Division of Post Audit probe the operations of the Sexual Predator Treatment Program. The performance audit reported:

* The program did not have adequate controls or policies to ensure keys and doors were secure.

* Security controls to prevent and detect items such as alcohol, cellphones, flash drives and pornography were inadequate.

* A "significant number" of direct-care staff positions were vacant.

* Some staff worked as much as 30 overtime hours a week.

* Even with staff working overtime hours, the program "often failed to meet its internal minimum staffing goals."

The audit said agency officials should review "recruitment, compensation and relocation options to address staff vacancies."

The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services and Larned State Hospital concurred with the audit's findings and recommendations to tighten security.

However, they disagreed over alleged failure to meet minimum staffing goals. Further, they said, they "will not implement the recommendation to examine the feasibility of relocating all or part of the program to a new location."

As of this spring when the audit was carried out, the Sexual Predator Treatment Program had 219 residents at Larned State Hospital. It is a growing program, adding about 18 new residents annually.

The program is authorized about 300 full-time-equivalent staff, but in April 2013, about 30 percent of the direct-care positions were vacant, the audit found.

Larned has a population of about 4,000 people, and the audit suggested that relocating to a larger labor pool could help address the shortage.

State Sen. Mitch Holmes, R-St. John, said some folks are interested in moving the program — and the jobs — to Johnson County.

"What's needed is to get to the bottom of the turnover issue," Holmes said.

Holmes said Larned State Hospital used to be regarded as a premier employer in the area. About a decade or so ago, however, he said, then-management gave top jobs to friends instead of promoting from within, and that had an adverse impact.

Pawnee County Commissioner John Haas criticized decisions made in Topeka.

Some job vacancies simply were eliminated, he said. Then, he said, the state encouraged state employees to take buyout incentives. Forty-seven employees at Larned State Hospital took the buyouts, Haas said.

Mandating employees to work overtime hours has been unfair, in Haas' opinion.

People have been treated "more as a commodity" than as employees, Haas said.

Rita Kurtz, a member of the Pawnee County Economic Development Commission, does not believe that moving the program to another locale will solve the problem of hiring employees.

Salaries are not in a range in line with the work and environment that employees have to deal with on a daily basis, she said.

Starting wage for a mental health developmental disability technician trainee was $12.04 an hour at Larned State Hospital, the audit noted, and a majority of staff members surveyed in the Sexual Predator Treatment Program said they had experienced a verbal or physical altercation with residents.

"If another locale thinks they can run this particular program cheaper, maybe they should try. But they will find that you cannot hire employees at this cheap wage to work with this type of clientele," Kurtz wrote in an email.

"These positions are funded by the state, and the current wage that the state is funding is not working," Kurtz said.

About 500 Larned State Hospital employees do not work with the Sexual Predator Treatment Program.

Kurtz believes that if the program was relocated, Larned State Hospital could use the space for other purposes.

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