LARNED — At Larned’s February city council meeting, Larned City Councilman Kim Barnes noted it had been a long time since Larned had made contact with the legislature in Topeka. Community feedback over reports that districts in the eastern part of the state were pushing to change long-standing protocols for evaluating mentally ill patients, and the closure of the juvenile correctional facility in Larned in 2017, prompted him to suggest perhaps it had been too long.
Noting interest, Larned City Manager Bradley Eilts offered to work with lobbyist Steve Kearney to arrange for a visit with leaders in the state capital. Last week, eight from Larned drove to Topeka and made it known that Larned has something unique to offer the state when it comes to the care of one of the states most challenging populations.
Wednesday morning, Eilts and seven other leaders from Larned, including Barnes, Superintendent of Larned State Hospital Bill Rein, Pawnee County Commissioner Debra Lewis, First State Bank & Trust Senior Vice President and USD 495 Board of Education member Sharon Lessard, retired businessman Larry Carr, civic leader Rita Kurtz, and Executive Director at Larned Area Chamber of Commerce Alex Filbert drove to Topeka. Pawnee County Attorney Doug McNett opted to stay behind due to illness, Eilts said. They attended a meeting of the Senate Ways and Means Committee where they were recognized as present.
“We were scheduled to talk about the state hospital budget but time ran out,” Eilts said. Still, the group was able to meet with legislators on an individual basis and talked about the importance of Larned State Hospital to the community and to the region.
“It’s a good source of employment,” Eilts said. “We let them know Larned wants to partner with them to overcome staffing issues there and we have something unique to offer.”
Relationships with Circles of Central Kansas, as well as other groups affiliated with community and educational organizations, could work to create opportunities to bring in entry-level employees and down the road provide close-to-home training to help employees prepare for next-level options, Eilts said. He envisions creating a local pipeline, funneling qualified employees to the fill the shortages at the state hospital.
“Staffing is an issue everywhere, not unique to Larned or central Kansas,” Eilts said. “Every community struggles to find enough qualified employees, regardless of its size. Moving people to a more metropolitan area doesn’t necessarily solve the problem because while there may be more people, there is also more competition for employees.”
Good news from KDADS
The group met with Executive Branch COO for the State of Kansas Shawn Sullivan, and Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services (KDADS) Secretary Tim Keck. Eilts reported they were complimentary of Bill Rein, noting staffing issues are being addressed and it’s getting noticeably better. Keck also shared with the group a letter from Mark Pelletier, Chief Operating Officer of The Joint Commission, granting full accreditation to Larned State Hospital effective Dec. 9, 2017, for the next three years. An on-site, unannounced Medicare deficiency follow-up event was conducted on Jan. 19, and it was determined at that time that areas of deficiency had been removed. That, and submission of evidence of standards compliance on Feb. 9, is what the decision was based upon.
During that meeting, Eilts said, the group also discussed the correctional facility at Larned. They stressed the community wants to be an active solution for that industry.
“Decisions were made with the juvenile correctional facility which the community of Larned wasn’t made aware of,” Eilts said. “That was not right.”
Moving forward, Eilts said visits like the one made last week will continue, and plans are in the works for another soon.
“It’s important we open up lines of communication with our legislators and make our presence recognized during the entire legislative session and throughout the year,” he said.