By Jim Misunas
LARNED — The secretary of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services delivered a message of optimism during a whirlwind tour of the Larned State Hospital complex Monday.
Larned State Hospital employees and Pawnee County politicians expressed concern that the summer firings of LSH Superintendent Robert Connell and Nursing Director Kim Brennan were signals that SRS officials plan to downsize LSH, in the same way it eliminated several SRS local offices.
SRS Secretary Rob Siedlecki assured invited guests and local politicians that Larned State Hospital isn’t going to close and no programs at LSH are targeted to be privatized, another popular rumor. Siedlecki oversees the Larned State Hospital as secretary of SRS. Chris Burke is serving as interim superintendent for Larned State Hospital.
“Larned State Hospital is a first-class facility and I was happy to see it,” he said of his visit to LSH. “My goal was to see how everything runs. SRS wants to run more efficient and more effective. I want open communication. I will come back to Larned if I have to.”
Siedlecki said he was impressed with the passion of local citizens and the support of local and regional politicians for LSH.
“It’s great to see the leadership from the city, county and State Senator (Allen) Schmidt,” he said. “We need to continue to develop a better relationship at the state level.”
Siedlecki toured the Larned State Hospital complex that features the Sexual Predator Treatment Program (SPTP), the Psychiatric Services Program (PSP) and the State Security Program (SSP).
The SSP at the Isaac Ray Buildings supervises 190 inmates with Department of Corrections or District Court criminal referrals. Lesia Dipman, SSP adminstrative program director, led an extensive Isaac Ray tour and explained how the seven units all provide care for inmates with various needs.
The SPTP treats patients in the Dillon and Jung with criminal backgrounds with sexually explicit behavior. Austin DesLauriers, SPTP clincal program director, explained that every opportunity for patients to interact in a group setting is a positive step forward.
“Whenever they are together, it gives us a chance to see that interaction,” he said.
PSP at ATC South, West and East units supervise community mental health center patients and voluntary and involuntary commitments with no criminal behavior required for commitment.
LSH officials said there is 60 available beds in Isaac Ray, but no state funding for employees. LSH team leaders said some employees have had to work extra hours because there is not sufficient personnel to handle the 24-hour duties in several departments.
Siedlecki wants all available positions at LSH filled. He said contining support for the Sexual Predator Treatment Program is a top priority. Currently, the SPTP has 185 budgeted beds, eight at Osawatomie State Hospital.
LSH team leaders expressed concern about hiring and keeping employees.
More than a dozen longtime employees have opted for “early retirement,” and several LSH nurses have chosen to work elsewhere before and after Brennan’s surprising dismissal. Brennan said she was never appraised of her job status and always considered her job a professional position rather than a “political appointment,” that could change with a new governor coming on board. She was never given a reason for her dismissal.
Courtland Holman, Larned Chamber of Commerce director, said a lack of suitable rental housing has been a roadblock for LSH hiring some employees.
Siedlecki said he would like to intervene to make more suitable housing available by visiting with the lending community.
Siedlecki previously served as chief of staff at the Florida Department of Health, helping manage 17,000 employees and a $3 billion budget. SRS has a $1.7 billion budget and about 6,000 employees.
By Jim Misunas