May 16, 2017

A Kansas law could allow guns in state hospitals. Here's how officials are preparing.

Daily Briefing

Hospital officials in Kansas are preparing for the effects of a law that would require state-run hospitals—including psychiatric facilities—either to allow concealed firearms on premises or to implement expensive security measures, Kristine Phillips reports for the Washington Post's "Post Nation."

How you can be proactive at managing behavioral health

Some lawmakers and hospital stakeholders say the law raises safety concerns.

About the law

A 2013 Kansas law expanded state gun laws to allow concealed firearms in state and municipal buildings. The law included a four-year exemption for hospitals and colleges, which ends July 1. Under the law, facilities can continue to prohibit concealed firearms if they put into place certain security measures, such as hiring armed guards and installing metal detectors. Such measures could "cost millions," Phillips reports.

Mental health advocates look to halt implementation

Mental health advocates and some state officials have pushed back against the law. They argue that allowing concealed firearms in health care settings could create an unsafe environment, particularly at state psychiatric facilities.

Tim Keck—head of the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services, which has jurisdiction over four state hospitals, including two psychiatric facilities and two centers for people with disabilities—said, "I'm a Second Amendment person and a conservative myself, but I don't think it's safe to have at state hospitals." He explained, "Our patients at state hospitals are the sickest of the sick from a mental-health standpoint. ... They go there and are admitted there because they're a danger to themselves and others. … We shouldn't put guns close to their access."

Why one hospital will treat gun violence like it treats alcoholism

Colin Thomasset, associate director of the Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas, noted that community mental health centers are statutorily required to "treat every person who walks through the door; so if an individual who is in crisis walks through our door carrying a concealed weapon, that situation presents a dangerous scenario not only to our staff, but also for other patients seeking treatment."

One way officials and advocates are looking to address the requirements of the 2013 law is to enact a new law. Kansas lawmakers currently are weighing legislation (HB 2278) that would permanently exempt government-owned hospitals, adult care homes, community mental-health centers, indigent care clinics, and the University of Kansas Health System from the 2013 law, allowing them to continue to ban concealed weapons without putting additional security measures in place.

According to Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning (R), most lawmakers support the bill. However, it's unclear what Gov. Sam Brownback (R)—who signed the 2013 expansion into law—would do if it reaches his desk, Phillips reports. Brownback in the past has described himself as "a long and consistent supporter of Second Amendment rights." And the National Rifle Association and its local affiliate strongly oppose the bill, saying it would create "an arbitrary boundary on your right to self-defense."

Health care facilities prepare for law's effects

If the permanent exemptions bill does not become law, officials project that the state would need to spend $24 million over the next two years if it chose to prohibit firearms in government hospitals and health centers, Phillips reports. Brownback requested such funding in a recent budget proposal.

Keck also said his department is beginning to assess the steps it would need to take to accommodate the security measures if the bill does not pass, such as weighing contracts with a private security firm, calling on state Department of Corrections staff for assistance, and identifying ways to pay for new equipment. Lawmakers at a budget hearing last month, however, expressed doubt that those measures would be in place by the July 1 deadline (Phillips, "Post Nation," Washington Post, 5/12).

How you can be proactive at managing behavioral health

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See our study on how hospitals can be proactive at managing behavioral health, and this accompanying video on why that matters so much—not just for patients' mental state, but for their physical health too.

The Daily Briefing also has covered how some hospitals are redesigning their facilities as they try to prevent patient suicides.

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