STORY BY JUSTIN SABATA
Walter Hill, executive director of High Plains Mental Health, presented challenges he and his staff have had to face so far this year to the Ellis County Commission on Monday. The first and most substantial issue has been the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on their day-to-day services.
However, as told by Hill, High Plains reacted by investing over $100,000 in iPads for patients to use for in-home appointments via Zoom. A study was then conducted with over 300 patients to show the effects it would have on the patient’s experience.
“A third of them preferred to be seen at home and would continue to prefer to be seen at home,” Hill said. “About a third said it’s okay either way; phone, Zoom, or coming into the office.”
The remaining third, according to the study, preferred only to be seen in person-to-person appointments.
Revenue for High Plains has decreased by about 50% according to Hill, though that is similarly seen throughout healthcare in the country.
“We have applied for grants, outside funding, to help through these situations,” Hil saidl. “We’re going to be fine, it’s just been a challenge.”
High Plains staff has returned to their office and is beginning to schedule in-office appointments again with virtual options available.
The closing of the KVC Hospital in Hays has been another obstacle for Hill and his staff. The Hays location provided psychiatric care for many youths in the county as well as northwest Kansas. In hopes of returning these services to Hays, Hill contacted Kansas Senator Rick Billinger.
“Senator Billinger advanced a bill to make sure there were those services in western Kansas,” Hill said. “I communicated with him just yesterday (Sunday) that this is still an unresolved issue.”
According to Hill, this problem might or might not be addressed in coming meetings in the capital.
“I believe he’s going to be visiting Topeka for some other things and this issue may come up,” Hill said.
The final and more recent issue presented concerned Larned State Hospital. According to Hill, the hospital has eliminated 18 psychiatric beds as a COVID-19 precautionary measure and has also stopped housing incoming involuntary patients.
“That means if a judge orders someone to Larned, they will be placed on a waiting list and have to wait in a hospital emergency room or a jail,” Hill said. “And that is not the right place.”
A concern raised by Commissioner Dustin Roths regarded the imminent spike in depression as a result of the pandemic. To combat this, High Plains has not laid off any of its staff members despite decreased revenue.
“Many mental health centers did lay off staff in the midst of this,” Hill said. “We lay off people, we aren’t going to get them back.”