LARNED — City Councilman Kim Barnes voiced his concern Monday night over feedback he has received from the community concerning recent reports that legislators in the eastern half of the state are interested in changing the protocols for evaluating mentally ill patients, and what that could mean for Larned State Hospital. He wanted to gauge interest in forming a delegation of representatives from Larned to travel to Topeka and visit with legislators there to let them know how important the hospital is to Pawnee County.
“It’s been several years since the area has had good representation there,” he said.
There is concern that if connections aren’t renewed soon, the fate of Larned State Hospital could hang in the balance. Barnes noted that while a protocol requiring evaluations be done by a panel over a period of anywhere from 60 days to six months is currently in place, there are those in the Legislature pushing to have evaluations done over a two-hour visit in a location such as Sedgwick County.
In an April 27, 2017, Topeka Capital-Journal article, it was reported that Shawnee County commissioners, “chastised the state of Kansas for not having met its court-ordered obligations to transfer 12 Shawnee County Jail inmates to receive mental health evaluations at Larned in south-central Kansas.”
KDADS spokeswoman Angela DeRocha responded that, “district courts are referring an increasingly larger number of people for evaluation to the State Security Program at Larned State Hospital, which lacks a sufficient number of clinicians and care staff members to accommodate those people.”
It was inferred that the hospital is having trouble recruiting enough people to fill positions in order to speed up the process.
Mayor William Nusser pointed out that while in the past the argument could be made that if the state funded the beds, the hospital could get the evaluations done faster, things are different now, and their position is weaker because there is a staffing shortage.
Still, he was positive about forming a delegation, as were others on the council. Rita Kurtz, Larned, formerly belonged to a Larned group with Barnes which frequently visited with legislators in Topeka. She spoke, expressing her desire to once again take part in such a group.
Noting interest, City Manager Brad Eilts said he would work on setting up a date with representatives sometime in the next week or two and would be in contact with those interested.
Circles eyed as a potential pipeline to fill local jobs
When Rebecca Lewis-Pankratz of Circles of Central Kansas and Debra Factor of Youth Core Ministries presented information about the program they hope to bring to Larned in September to help lift residents out of poverty, the council and Nusser latched onto it as a possible solution to filling jobs at Larned State Hospital.
“Larned has a need for help with the poverty sector, and I think we also have a unique opportunity that we can drive, and we also have an employer that is looking for workers,” he said. “The chance for success is great because I think anywhere you go, jobs are the hardest things to find.”
Functionally, Larned has the jobs, as long as applicants don’t have felony backgrounds, he said.
Pankratz noted the program recently graduated 11 in Great Bend, and next month more will graduate in St. John and Stafford. At least some of these graduates are without background issues, and she agreed further talk needed to happen.
“It could be life-changing for them, and I think they are ready,” she said.
Factor shared the goal of launching the program by September. They hope to have raised 50 percent of the $50,000 budget needed to start the program by then. This visit was not to ask for funding but to simply inform the council about the program, answer questions, and plant the seed for how the council could help in the future. She asked council members to mark their calendars for a poverty simulation to be held April 30, which would provide a glimpse into what Circles hopes to accomplish within the community.
Nusser noted that last he checked there were 90 entry-level jobs requiring only a high school diploma that are available today, starting at $14 an hour with full health insurance.
“If people want jobs there are jobs,” he said.
Factor explained after participants go through the first phase of the program, “Getting Ahead,” they will be ready to go into jobs.