The state no longer is considering opening a sexual predator reintegration facility in a former assisted-living center in Dighton.
The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services wound up responsible for the closed Diamond View Estates after a not-for-profit entity in Lane County defaulted on a loan. Because the state will need more sexual predator reintegration space, it considered the 20-bed Dighton center as a location.
More than 300 people attended a March 13 town hall in Dighton and strongly objected to the state's proposal. The town's reaction led the state to ditch the plan.
“The behavior and statements of residents before, during and after the Dighton event caused concern for the physical safety of our staff and the security/structural integrity of the Diamond View Estates facility itself," according to Angela de Rocha, deputy secretary and communications director for Aging and Disability Services and the department’s top official at the town hall.
There were threats to burn down the building, she noted.
“KDADS staff is grateful for the presence of and the protection provided by the Lane County Sheriff’s Department during our visit,” De Rocha wrote in an email to The News.
Aging and Disability Services Secretary Tim Keck was not at the town hall, but staff informed him about the reaction. On March 21, according to Kansas House Majority Leader Don Hineman, R-Dighton, Keck told him in a phone conversation that Dighton no longer was being considered for the sexual predator reintegration facility.
Hineman also posted on Facebook that the department's decision was a direct result of two back-to-back meetings staff had in Dighton on March 13.
“Your voices were heard and you did make a difference,” posted Hineman, who was also at the town hall and opposed the sexual predator plan.
The close of that chapter has launched new planning for how to repurpose Diamond View Estates.
De Rocha cited the Adult Continuum of Care Committee and a Mental Health Task Force report delivered in January for the need for behavioral health facilities that provide care to communities rather than state hospitals. Hineman said the state is examining the possibility of using Diamond View Estates for crisis intervention beds for mental health.
At the town hall, state officials urged local residents or groups to submit their plans for how to use the building.
On Wednesday, the Lane County Community Foundation hosted a meeting at the Dighton High School library, where elected city, county, and school board officials were invited to discuss the next step. Also present was the regional Compass Behavioral Health’s Scott City Program Director Angela Woelk.
“Mental health touches so many different areas, from youths to elderly,” said Lane County Community Foundation board member George von Leonrod. “It sounds like western Kansas is underserved,” he said, whether the issue is foster care, a crisis center, or a facility for domestic abuse victims.
The plan is for Lane County Community Foundation to seek a grant to finance a feasibility study on the building, according to Von Leonrod.
“It’s our understanding that right now the state really doesn't truly understand how they want to utilize the building,” he said.
The feasibility study will help the community see what could be a good fit, he said.
“I think they are taking this very seriously,” Woelk said, and “accepting the challenge” to propose a new use to the state, she said. “They’re going to put this on the fast track,” Woelk also said of the feasibility study.
To buy the building from the state might require roughly $1.5 million. It’s possible, Von Leonrod said, that after the study points to the best use of the building, negotiations with the state could ensue.
Dean and Linda Ash, new owners of Dighton’s Heritage Hotel, were among the residents attending and speaking out at the town hall. Dean said he was excited to learn the sexual predator facility option was off the table. He also complimented the state for its decision after the town hall.
“I think it speaks to the character of the leadership,” he said.
“I think everybody's kind of breathing a sigh of relief,” he said. He said he probably would have some reservations about any kind of halfway house being located in a town with fewer than a thousand residents.
Lisa Southern, executive director of the Garden City-based Compass Behavioral Health, which serves 13 counties including Lane County, wrote a memo March 19 identifying six examples of needs in western Kansas: detox/sobering beds; halfway house for people completing substance abuse treatment; residential placement for foster care children without a foster home placement; crisis beds — either for adults or for children; a psychiatric treatment facility; and transitional living for adults with severe and persistent mental illness.
Southern cautioned that Dighton's rural location and limited workforce “could be a deterrent to some of these ideas.”
“The expense, on the state, to offer such programming may also be an issue,” Southern wrote.
Meanwhile, Aging and Disability Services has sexual predator reintegration facilities at Larned, Parsons and Osawatomie and has announced no potential fourth location after it eliminated Dighton.
“We have adequate beds right now for the individuals in the transition phase of the program, but anticipate that more beds will be needed next year,” De Rocha wrote.