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OSAWATOMIE – After more than a year of improvements, renovations and the pursuit of recertification, the Osawatomie State Hospital’s (OSH) future continues to remain in a state of flux.

Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services (KDADS) Interim Secretary Tim Keck recently announced that a request for proposal (RFP) for privatization of the operation of OSH has been put into effect.

The RFP entails several specifications and could allow for a partial privatization of the hospital or a full bid for the entire operation.

The RFP states that the state may award one contract to assume responsibility for providing at least 206 inpatient beds within the state of Kansas, but a minimum of only 94 inpatient beds would be required to be maintained at the current Osawatomie State Hospital campus. The remaining beds could be maintained at the OSH campus or at another KDADS-approved facility within the state hospital’s 45-county catchment area.

Despite the RFP, Keck said it in no way means that privatization is a certainty in OSH’s future. He said he believes it is worthwhile to consider all the options even those that may not come to fruition. The RFP can be rescinded at any time for any reason at the state’s discretion.

He also emphasized the words “if” and “might,” saying that at the very least, the RFP could help generate ideas and improvements for the continuing operation of OSH as it is currently.

“I want people to know that it’s not a manifest destiny,” Keck said. “I think we need to leave all options on the table. If – and I cannot stress the words ‘if’ and ‘might’ enough – we privatize, it has to be a proposal that works.”

The process following the OSH RFP includes a review of bid proposals at the end of the set deadline of Dec. 29, the subsequent acceptance of a bid proposal and the approval of the Legislature, which could happen as early as April or March of next year.

If legislators approve the proposal and privatization becomes a reality, Keck said the contract would most likely go into effect January 2018.

Last week, he and OSH superintendent John Worley met with staff to allay any concerns and to answer questions. Keck said the employees concerns are legitimate, and it was important to him to be able to meet with them to discuss the RFP.

“I wanted to hear from them firsthand,” he said. “Many of them understood but they’re still skeptical.”

While the employees provided what both men termed “a tough audience,” Keck and Worley agreed they were glad the staff was willing to ask hard questions because it showed the level of commitment and passion the employees have for the hospital.

“They’re a tough audience because they’re truly passionate about their patients,” Worley said. “They have a strong commitment to the people and to this hospital.”

Still, legislators like House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey and House Rep. Kevin Jones were concerned with the direction the RFP might take OSH in the future.

“Tim Keck called me and told me they were moving forward with the RFP even though anything that comes from it still would all go through the Legislature,” Jones said. “Recertification and bringing bed levels up is still a priority, but they want to see what offers might be out there.”

Jones went on to say that he does not agree with an RFP that plans to move beds away from OSH and not increase functions there. He said the RFP seems to allow for a move of beds away from the state hospital as an option, which he does not favor.

“I have always made it clear that this would never find favor. My thoughts right now are that it is so very important that any move for privatization will have to go through the legislature,” he said.

Vickrey agreed, saying it’s disappointing to see an RFP because legislators were assured of the commitment of KDADS and the administration at OSH to move forward with recertification and to not privatize.

It’s his belief that the legislators need to push back and make sure the RFP does not make it through the legislature.

“Our first obligation is to support our hospital and our community,” he said. Vickrey’s belief is that there needs to be more oversight by legislators and that an RFP should only be considered if it shows a viable means of success in the long term.

While privatization is a possibility in OSH’s future, Keck said if it happens, as long as he is Secretary at KDADS, he intends to do whatever possible to keep the state hospital in Osawatomie, where he said it belongs.

“I won’t allow the state hospital not to be here in Osawatomie as long as I am secretary,” he said.

Legislators have the final say on any move to privatize OSH.

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