WICHITA _ Financial concerns — not an ongoing state investigation — dictated the decision to close the Parallax substance abuse treatment program on Friday, an official said.
Danny Bardezbain, president of the Parallax board, said the board based its decision, announced today, on these concerns:
"The decision we made is totally independent of the investigation," Bardezbain said.
Still, the announcement that Parallax is closing Friday, after nearly 40 years in operation, came as devastating news to clients and staff at Parallax.
"This is the only place I've felt safe in a long, long time," said one woman in inpatient treatment at Parallax.
"It's a tragedy that's happening," another client said.
The state social services agency said today the closing will leave "a significant gap" in addiction treatment services in south central Kansas and that state officials will work with the Parallax board, Sedgwick County and other state agencies "to redirect resources to ensure adequate services are available."
Today's announcement came less than a week after the board accepted the retirement of Parallax founder and CEO Milt Fowler.
The announcement of the closing occurred about three weeks after the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services confirmed that it is investigating allegations about Parallax. It receives city, state and federal money to help people recover from substance abuse through inpatient, outpatient and detoxification services.
SRS has not said what the allegations are. But The Eagle has interviewed several women about written statements they said they gave to the Parallax board or SRS investigators. Among the allegations are: that Fowler touched two women inappropriately and sent them sexually graphic text messages in recent years, that fraudulent billing or over-billing occurred for patient care and that counseling jobs were filled with people who lacked credentials or were unfit for the job, including a registered sex offender.
Fowler, 65, has not responded to messages seeking comment.
After the announcement of the closing, some current staff members defended Fowler. Carol West, a counselor's assistant, said she has known Fowler since the mid-1990s and he never mistreated her. Donita Trukken, a residential counselor, said of Fowler: "He told me, 'The clients come first.'"
In a statement today, the Parallax board said, "Upon careful consideration and weighing the options and challenges around us, the Parallax Board of Directors has determined that it is in the best interest of our clients for Parallax to discontinue its services."
In an interview, Bardezbain, the board president, said the allegations and the investigation "caused the board to look at the whole of Parallax, and our decision today was based strictly on financial considerations."
He later elaborated, saying that the inpatient facility, 3410 E Funston, needs "several hundred thousand to get this up to compliance." It needs a new roof and a new heating and cooling system.
A second factor: An interim management team determined that the staff to client ratio wasn't high enough. "Then you're looking at hiring more people," Bardezbain said.
And a third factor: The "debt load is very high."
The decision to close rested on putting "all these pieces together," Bardezbain said.
As for the SRS investigation, he said, "We don't know what they're going to come back with in that investigation yet.
"We can't make a decision on the allegations because that investigation isn't complete."
Meanwhile, Parallax's 25-bed detoxification center and all other services _ including residential inpatient, outpatient and transitional care _ will stop operating Friday, the board said.
The board announced the decision to staff and clients this morning. There are at least 50 staff members and dozens of clients, Bardezbain said.
The Substance Abuse Center of Kansas will help current clients "immediately with their transition to another treatment center so that they can continue their progress toward recovery," the board statement said.
"This was an extremely difficult decision for our board to make," Bardezbain said in the statement.
"But at the heart of the decision was doing the best thing for our clients. We thank our staff for their years of service with Parallax and will assist as we can with helping them find new positions within the treatment profession."
According to SRS, besides Parallax, there are two other inpatient detoxification programs in the Wichita area: Women's Recovery Center and Options Adult Services, a men's program. Also, SRS said, there are 50 addiction treatment programs in the Wichita area that are either approved by the state or funded by Medicaid.
News of the closing jolted Parallax clients and staff.
In an interview, Bardezbain said "of course, there's a lot of anxiety" among staff members losing their jobs, and "naturally, the clients are upset. ... They don't know what's going to happen."
Brandy Spresser, 29, a Parallax inpatient client, said, "In the six weeks I've been here, my entire life has changed." She said she didn't want to live when she came into the program. Now, she is recovering and has a "wonderful job."
"This place is something that just can't be re-created," Spresser said.
"I'm scared to leave."
Carol West, a 47-year-old counselor's assistant at Parallax, said the program first helped her as a client. She got a driver's license and went to college. The sobriety she gained with the help of Parallax has allowed her to have a relationship with her children and grandchildren.
Her 22-year-old son, Shad Taylor, came to her workplace this afternoon to show his support.
"This place saved my mom's life," he said.