Tom Stolz and Harold Casey know that in the world of substance abuse treatment, nothing is more important to saving lives or reducing costs in the long run than providing enough beds for people who need to detoxify.
Stolz, a Wichita deputy police chief, said it happens something like this:
An officer finds a man, drunk, passed out on a bench. He has no family, no contacts, nowhere to go. Leave him there, and he might freeze to death or fall and crack his skull. He needs a safe place to sober up, get some sleep and food, get his vital signs checked, get assessed.
For decades now, an officer would have taken such a person to the Parallax inpatient facility near George Washington Boulevard and Hillside, where there had been 25 "detox" beds, which stayed full. The average stay: about three days.
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Those 25 beds — and other Parallax treatment programs — are now history. Parallax officially closed its doors Friday after nearly 40 years of operation.
Officials have put a stop-gap plan in place but say the community needs a longer-term solution for detox beds.
Representatives of the city, county and state are working to develop a proposal for additional detox beds to make up for the 25 that were lost, said Casey, CEO of Substance Abuse Center of Kansas. Some of the funding would come from liquor tax revenue that the city had provided to Parallax.
"If you are providing detox services, then you are reducing the costs of other service providers," Casey said, because successful detox programs will reduce hospital, jail and policing costs.
"It's a cost-saving intervention, in my view, and it does save lives."
On Monday, the board of Parallax — a government-funded, nonprofit organization — announced that because of financial concerns it had decided to cease its programs.
The closing came days after the board accepted the retirement of Parallax CEO and founder Milt Fowler, 65. The closing occurred weeks after the state confirmed that it is investigating Parallax. Several women — former Parallax staff or clients — have told The Eagle that they provided the board or the state with written statements alleging sexual, financial and operational improprieties at Parallax.
Many of the allegations have been leveled at Fowler, who has not publicly responded to the accusations. Some of his staff and clients have defended him, saying he has saved thousands of lives over the years.
Meanwhile, one of the women making the allegations on Friday provided The Eagle with a copy of a letter she received last month from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The letter said the agency had forwarded her information —"alleging multiple federal, state and local health care law violations" by Parallax — to its Kansas City regional office "for their review and appropriate action."
Despite the sudden closing of Parallax, by Friday all of the Parallax clients — about 275 — had been transferred to other inpatient and outpatient programs, many in Wichita, some as far away as Kansas City, Kan., said Casey, who was chosen to help coordinate the transfers.
The provider network "stepped up to the plate," and helped find new placements, Casey said.
The government funding for the services the clients have been receiving essentially goes with them to the new provider.
Most of those displaced by the Parallax closing have been able to stay in Wichita.
Detox patients who wanted assistance were placed in a treatment center of their choice, Casey said.
Wichita still has 14 detox beds at two other facilities — seven for men and seven for women.
So far, they have been enough: As of Friday, 10 of the 14 beds were open, Casey said.
In the interim, a team will be closely watching detox beds and moving patients when appropriate to make room for those who desperately need the service, Casey said.
As part of the monitoring, Casey has increased the number of counselors who go to hospitals and the remaining detox programs to assess what patients need.
There's a rule in treatment work, Casey said: One-third of the people coming into detox will leave after a short time, one-third will get help and one-third will remain undecided.
The thing is, he said, you never know which category someone will fit into when they come to a detox facility.
Stolz, the deputy police chief, said since the decision to close Parallax, he hasn't heard of officers having trouble finding a detox bed for someone who needs help.
Still, he said, "we're going to miss the services of Parallax."
"Clearly, we're going to have to look at a long-term solution."