DIGHTON — Melanie Baalman said it hurt her heart when the financially struggling 13-year-old Diamond View Estates assisted-living home closed here in May 2017.
She sat on the board of the non-profit Lane County Senior Living Foundation, which operated the home. The facility was licensed for 20 residents but had only four residents at the end. The foundation defaulted on the loan provided by the state through the Kansas Partnership Loan Program for construction. The property reverted to the state, and the foundation was dissolved.
“We didn’t know what they would do with it,” Baalman said.
The answer came during a House committee hearing in Topeka. The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services has identified a potential use for the property: A reintegration housing facility for treated sexual predators.
“I know we have a lot of folks that are not happy at all,” Baalman said.
One is Kansas House Majority Leader Don Hineman, R-Dighton.
His sister, State Rep. Linda Hineman Gallagher, R-Lenexa, is a member of the House Social Services Budget Committee. When Aging and Disability Services made a budget presentation Feb. 14, it mentioned the plan for her hometown of Dighton. The budget proposal included $461,557 from the state general fund in the next fiscal year for the Dighton project, with the money needed for staffing and structural expenses, according to legislative research staff.
“Of course she immediately snapped to attention and learned what she could and reported it to me,” said Hineman, surprised by the plan.
The next day, the Department's Secretary Tim Keck was in Hineman’s office at the Statehouse.
The first thing he needed to do, Hineman said he told Keck, was to meet with Dighton community leaders and hold a town hall.
Aging and Disability Services staff plan to meet with community leaders at 4:30 p.m. March 13 to discuss plans for the building. At 6:30 p.m., the visiting officials will answer questions and address concerns at a town hall at the Dighton 4-H Center. The state agency also will “talk about the benefits of repurposing the property, such as bringing 20 state jobs to Dighton,” said Angela de Rocha, director of communications for Aging and Disability Services, in an email to The News.
Legislative Post Audit studies have pointed out persistent capacity concerns for the sexual predator treatment program. The operation is based at Larned State Hospital, with additional small reintegration sites. In early 2011, the program at Larned had 200 of 214 beds filled. In December 2014, the program was at approximately 92 percent of capacity, an audit stated.
If more beds are not put at Larned State Hospital or at a new reintegration facility, demand could exceed current capacity by June 30, 2020, stated the budget then-Gov. Sam Brownback presented in January.
Reintegration housing is where residents of the sexual predator treatment program who are in the final tier of inpatient treatment, may safely transition into the community, according to De Rocha.
“Reintegration prepares residents with basic daily skills that will be necessary once they successfully complete the program, such as securing employment, remaining financially stable, and continuing treatment,” she wrote.
Expanding reintegration housing would not reduce the population of sexual predators in treatment and would increase costs to the state, but it may prove beneficial because it could increase motivation, one audit stated.
As a result of the most recent Legislative Post Audit on the program, the Legislature instructed Aging and Disability Services to move more residents through the treatment process and into the transition program and eventually back into the community, De Rocha said. The Legislature also doubled the limit on the number of residents at a reintegration facility from eight to 16.
There are three reintegration facilities — at Parsons, Osawatomie and Larned. “We got no pushback in Parsons, a little in Larned, nothing in Osawatomie,” De Rocha said of community reaction.
But adding beds to an existing reintegration facility is not an option.
"A new reintegration will be necessary because, under current law, a reintegration facility cannot exceed more than 16 individuals in any given county," Brownback's budget noted.
Pushback in Dighton
“Those three communities already had a history of providing related services and had a workforce built up around that,” Hineman said.
Hineman thinks Dighton is not ideally situated for the facility, both because of its labor force and its jobs market.
Larned State Hospital faces challenges filling staff positions. About 15 job titles at the state hospital were on the state's list of available jobs last week. A Legislative Post Audit report in 2015, noting the small labor market in Larned, recommended the state examine the feasibility of relocating part or all of the sexual predator treatment program "to an area of the state with a larger labor market that will increase the number of job applicants."
“You think it might be worse in Dighton? I think so,” Hineman said. One issue that Diamond View Estates dealt with during its entire existence was the problem of maintaining staff, Hineman said. He said Keck estimated employment at the Dighton location could reach as high as 50.
Residents at a reintegration facility are supervised in the facility and transported to a work site.
“We’re a small community and jobs are hard to come by,” said Dighton resident Daniel Moomaw, who lives near Diamond View Estates. He doesn’t expect local retailers would be eager to hire the new residents. “That’s just going to leave a lot of free time,” Moomaw said, for the new residents.
Without a sufficient jobs market in Dighton, Hineman said, the residents probably would have to be transported to jobs in Dodge City or Garden City.
As for the positions at the proposed facility, Moomaw doubted current residents would be currently trained for those jobs. If the state jobs attract employees with families, that would benefit the Dighton school district, Moomaw said. “I still don’t think the tradeoff would be worth it,” he added.
Recidivism among sexual predators concerns Moomaw
Baalman said Diamond View Estates is near the ball diamonds, where kids play throughout the summer. The property also is near the Parents as Teachers location and is several blocks from the high school.
The entire town is only about a mile wide, she said. Even though the swimming pool is on the other side of town, that’s just a matter of blocks, she said.
"I don't see any good coming out of it for our town," Moomaw said.
The Dighton project is included in state hospital budgets headed to the House Appropriations Committee. That panel will hear presentations on March 6. The budget process is lengthy, offering opportunities for amendments, deletions, and additions before the fiscal year 2019 budget is finalized this spring.
Hineman said Keck mentioned as a second option that the state could use Diamond View Estates for mental health beds. Yet another option, Hineman said, could be a third party attempting to buy the property from the state, but he didn't know if that was feasible.
"I know that it doesn't need to sit empty," Baalman said, but "it's hard to imagine something like that going in," she said.