By Jim Misunas
LARNED — State Senator Allen Schmidt will try and get some answers Friday from Rob Siedlecki, secretary of the Social and Rehabilitation Services.
Schmidt, a state senator from Hays, and the people who work at the Larned State Hospital might like not like the answers they will eventually hear.
Thursday’s Pawnee County legislative listening tour featured Schmidt, a state senator from Hays, and State Representatives Mitch Holmes and Larry Powell.
Siedlecki, apparently hired by Governor Sam Brownback as a budget-cutting hatchet man, has already fired Larned State Hospital Superintendent Robert Connell and Osawatomie State Hospital Greg Valentine and Kim Brennan, director of nursing at Larned State Hospital. The firings are accomplished with no warning and there is no indication the layoffs have anything to do with job performance.
Schmidt had a brief conversation with Siedlecki recently at Dodge City, but wasn’t able to acquire any details on what’s happening.
“He couldn’t tell me much, but I am trying to secure an appointment to talk to him directly,” Schmidt said. “It is very important for me to know that information. The Larned State Hospital employees are very concerned. Sometimes, tough decisions have to be made. But there is a right way to do that.”
Larned State Hospital employees are also being kept in the dark. They’ve heard conversation that suggests the state hospital will continue to lose valuable long-time employees. Some are concerned those signs indicate a shift from state-funding into some type of privatized care.
“Those of us who work at the Larned State Hospital are hungry for information,” said one audience member.
In an overview of the state mental health hospitals, Siedlecki and Ray Dalton, secretary of disability and behavioral health services, painted a scary picture of the future for Larned State Hospital.
In their address presented Feb. 14 before the State Ways and Means Subcommittee on Hospitals, their review showed a desire to cut spending by more than $1.9 million over the next two fiscal years at the state hospitals, mostly by cutting salaries and positions. Salaries were to be lowered at Osawatomie State Hospital and Rainbow Mental Health Facility.
Brownback has proposed closing the Kansas Neurological Institute, a Topeka residential facility that cares for more than 150 people with profound disabilities. Under Brownback’s plan, residents would be moved into community-based housing over a two-year period starting in July.
Larned State Hospital would have 138 vacant positions eliminated. An estimated 294 vacant positions would be eliminated in the state system during the next two years.
Schmidt said he is especially sensitive to job losses in rural Kansas, hundreds of miles from Topeka. He said redistricting may cost western Kansas a State Senate seat.
“We have too many things to work on to lose a voice,” he said. “Nine of my 10 counties have lost population. The population in the state is moving east. They already think anything west of Wanamaker in Topeka is western Kansas.”
Schmidt said he’s focuses on improving rural health care and engaging in technology to help rural Kansas.