Politics & Government

New children’s psychiatric hospital in Wichita lands $75,000 city grant

A new psychiatric care hospital for children in Wichita has landed a $75,000 startup grant from City Hall.

Council members approved the grant unanimously, despite some concern that the city has no established procedure for making donations to non-profit organizations.

Sedgwick County, which operates the local mental-health department, granted the hospital operator, KVC Health Systems, $100,000 earlier this year.

The treatment center opened Aug. 29 at 1507 W. 21st St. to serve children ages 6 to 18 with mental health and substance abuse problems.

It has 54 beds and is expected to serve about 2,800 patients a year, said Scot Rigby, assistant city manager.

The council justified the grant as part of its economic development strategy.

KVC invested $7 million in renovating the space at the former site of the Kansas Orthopedic Center and is creating 120 jobs with an average salary of $42,500, Rigby said.

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Council member Jeff Blubaugh questioned whether the grant complied with any city policy.

“I think this is a good cause, but I have a feeling we’ve just created something, just invented a grant for this to be able to donate the money for the children’s hospital,” he said.

City Manager Robert Layton replied that the council had budgeted $200,000 for “community partnerships” without any specific guidelines on how to spend it. He suggested the economic development approach was the best way to proceed.

Blubaugh is seeking a share of that money for Passageways, a charity that assists homeless veterans.

While the KVC project fell short of the usual return that the city expects for economic development subsidies, council members said they were willing to approve the grant because the facility will be serving a population that wasn’t being served in Wichita.

Until now, the nearest in-patient facilities for children with mental health problems were hours away, officials said.

“Working in group homes as I did for years, we were forced to . . . have these kids go out to Hays or Kansas City,” Johnson said. “And oftentimes they would call parents the day of (a crisis) and say ‘We need you to come and pick your kid up.

A lot of folks can’t drive five hours to Hays — and that’s there and back and so a 10-hour drive basically — or going to Kansas City.”

He said the local facility is a godsend for the children and their parents.

“It allows parents to visit or pick up their kids in a way that’s not taking them a full day of work off,” he said.

Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.