Few people want to move to Larned to fill vacant jobs in a state program to treat sexual predators, but moving the program may not be a good option either due to resistance from residents who don’t want such a facility in their town, officials said Tuesday.
Members of the House Health and Human Services Committee and officials with the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services both asked for solutions to long-standing staffing shortages at Larned State Hospital during an information session, but they left without apparently reaching any.
About 38 percent of direct care positions in Larned State Hospital’s program focusing on sexually violent predators are vacant, and staff have reported frequently working involuntary overtime. Direct care positions can include nurses, mental health technicians, therapists and psychiatrists.
Larned, in southwest Kansas, is one of two state-run inpatient treatment facilities for Kansans with severe and persistent mental illness. The other is in Osawatomie.
KDADS has set an “aggressive” goal of filling about 85 positions at Larned, Deputy Secretary Kelly Ludlum said, and is looking at ideas such as extending its day care program to 10 p.m. or setting up on-site housing so that providers with long commutes could work four longer days in Larned and then go home for a three-day weekend. It isn’t clear if those ideas would work, however, and raising employee pay hasn’t solved the recruitment and retention issues, she said.
“We don’t need more solutions that don’t meet the needs of employees,” she said.
Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican, asked why KDADS wasn’t recruiting more aggressively. He also accused senior administration officials of a lack of leadership on state hospital issues.
“When you’re in the hot seat, I’m in the hot seat. And it’s hot,” he said. “The ship, it’s capsizing, and the captain’s still trying to steer it.”
Ludlum noted Schwab, who grew up in western Kansas, no longer lives there, and said attracting young talent is difficult.
“You’re not in Larned anymore. There’s probably a reason you moved elsewhere,” she said. “We’re pulling from Hays. We’ve pretty much tapped out Great Bend.”
Ludlum said KDADS would be open to any solutions Schwab or the committee could offer, and Schwab countered that he needed to hear a solution from KDADS.
Ludlum responded: “I think KDADS has said we don’t have a solution today.”
“When you’re in the hot seat, I’m in the hot seat. And it’s hot.”- Rep. Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican
Rep. John Whitmer, a Wichita Republican, asked if KDADS had considered relocating the program to a more populated area of the state.
“It seems like the problem is not going to get any better,” he said.
Ludlum didn’t rule out relocating, but she said KDADS encountered resistance to adding a reintegration facility in Larned for sexually violent predators nearing the end of their treatment despite already having a secured facility for those offenders in the area.
Rep. Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, had said earlier in the meeting that he thought sexually violent predators shouldn’t be treated in highly populated areas.
“I think we’re rapidly approaching the point where all options are on the table for Larned,” Ludlum said. “That is not a program, as Rep. Ward indicated, that anyone wants in their backyard.”