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It’s a long way to Topeka
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To the editor:

As the crow flies it is 194 miles from Larned to Topeka. To get results, to get someone’s ear about a problem, it might as well be a million miles. Larned State Hospital is the crown jewel of Kansas’s mental health treatment program for the citizens of the Sunflower State. Yet, it gets ignored like the crazy old uncle in a lot of families.

There was a time when Kansas led the nation in mental health care and treatment. Doctors and administrators wanted to work in Kansas. It was a bump for their resume. Not any more. Kansas has adopted a plan of “let’s wait and see, maybe the problem will go away!” Well, mental health problems are not going away; they are accelerating and our political leaders in Topeka are unwilling to address it. Even the few who are concerned cannot turn the ship. It is like trying to avoid that iceberg in the Titanic!

Just this week the Pawnee County Sheriff’s Office requested that the County Commissioners invoice the Governor’s office and KDADS for the costs incurred in handling the escape of John Freeman Colt last year. There is as much chance of them paying that as there is of the New York Jets winning the Superbowl!

Administration and leaders at LSH are limited in what they can accomplish without the support and increased funding from Topeka. Now the Governor has issued an order for a comprehensive review of security policies, protocols and practices. That is to happen in February and written recommendations are to come in March. This is the usual knee jerk reaction when an escapee flees. Another study to eventually gather dust on the shelves in Topeka.

We would be far better served by a comprehensive review of why Topeka and KDADS have continued to have a blind eye towards adequate mental health care in Kansas. Why they have ignored proper funding of the facilities they have already built, why they have continual turnover in the management levels of KDADS and why they build new buildings (like the Youth Facility at LSH) and then quit using them and let them sit.

Meanwhile, at LSH, available beds for treatment of ever-increasing mental health patients continues to decline. In 2020 KDADS told the Supreme Court that LSH would have 92 beds available for treatment of patients. Last year that was reduced to 72 supposedly as a COVID-19 precaution. As of January 6, 2022, LSH has now reduced that number of beds to 62 due to staff shortages. Staff shortages are caused by overworked employees and low wages. Working overtime is a good thing for the pocketbook but it can not be sustained as a policy to fix hiring shortages.

The name, Larned State Hospital, by its name, is a hospital. A hospital treats patients. COVID or not. LSH is headed in the wrong direction. They are treating fewer and fewer patients when they need to be treating more and more. Meanwhile, area law enforcement agencies grow more and more frustrated that these problems are being dumped back onto them, where they do not belong.

The problems of mental health in Kansas are similar to the problems that have gone on in education. Finally, the Kansas Supreme Court stepped in to help fix that problem. Do not blame the local administration. Do not blame the local employees. The problems are being created 194 miles east of here. How loud do we have to beat the drums for the folks in Topeka to hear? Would smoke signals work better?

Charles Tabler