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Fighting for Kristi

PAOLA — Jennifer Cook of rural Paola and her family members are on a mission.

It’s a mission that began more than eight months ago after Cook’s younger sister, Kristi Bennett, took her own life when she couldn’t find a mental health treatment facility that her insurance would accept.

And it’s a mission that Cook and her family members won’t consider complete until legislation is approved that will help prevent similar tragedies from taking place.

“She was fighting depression,” Cook said. “She planned on getting help at a treatment facility, but just when she thought her insurance was going to cover it, they rejected her.”

The tragedy happened in April 2019, a time in which Kristi was battling severe depression spawned by some difficult times in her personal life.

Jerry Bennett, Kristi’s father and general manager of Miami County Rural Water District No. 2, said Kristi had been prescribed multiple medications ranging from antidepressants to anti-anxiety pills, and she was also using alcohol to cope.

The family members knew Kristi needed help, and they said Kristi realized it too. Together, they tried to find the right treatment facility.

Kristi’s sister Stephanie got to work calling about 30 different facilities to try and find help.

“She was denied treatment by multiple institutions because she didn’t have an emergency case first,” Cook said.

Finally, Kristi and her family members found a treatment facility in Austin, Texas, that would admit her, and her insurance company gave her pre-approval.

Cook said the plane tickets were purchased, and Kristi began packing Monday, April 15, for her scheduled flight the next day. It was then she was notified that her insurance request was denied because the facility was out of state.

“She told me Wednesday that she couldn’t find a facility that would take her insurance because several facilities said they only took emergencies such as attempted suicide patients,” Cook said.

On the night of Thursday, April 18, Kristi took 15 Wellbutrin tablets. Family members believe Kristi didn’t think the dose would be fatal, based on conversations she had with others making plans for later that week, as well as the fact she also took caffeine pills so she wouldn’t go to sleep.

Family members believe Kristi’s plan was for her sister Stephanie, who is a nurse and was sleeping in the next room at the time, to find her and take her to the hospital.

Instead, Kristi was pronounced dead Friday, April 19, 2019, at the age of 28.

“If she would have gotten on that plane, she’d still be here,” Cook said.

The family members were shocked, confused and angry, and Cook said they started doing research to determine what they could do to prevent another tragedy like Kristi’s from taking place.

They learned about the federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equality Act (MHPAEA) that was passed in 2008 and linked with the Affordable Care Act. The legislation was designed to guarantee equal coverage of treatment for mental illness and addiction as compared to medical claims, but Cook said that more than a decade later the services are still not comparable, and only certain states have chosen to make it a priority.

“This is the largest health disparity that no one is talking about,” Cook said.

Kristi’s family members turned to Topeka for answers, and their work has resulted in a senate bill that has already been prefiled for the upcoming legislative session set to begin Monday, Jan. 13.

Senate Bill 249, also known as the Kristi L. Bennett Mental Health Parity Act, would in essence put control into the hands of doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists when it comes to determining the treatment needs of a patient, not an insurance company.

According to the bill, if it is determined that a patient needs in-patient treatment for substance abuse or suicidal ideation, the patient will get in-patient treatment “without the imposition of prior authorization, concurrent review, retrospective review or any other form of utilization review for the first 14 days.”

The same would apply to the first 180 days of out-patient treatment, if that is what the medical and psychiatric professionals determine is necessary, according to the bill.

The bill was co-sponsored by a handful of state senators, including Baldwin City Democrat Tom Holland, who represents Jerry Bennett; Lenexa Democrat Dinah Sykes, who represents Stephanie; and Louisburg Republican Molly Baumgardner, who represents Cook.

Baumgardner said suicide rates continue to rise across the country, especially in Kansas.

“That’s just not acceptable,” she said.

Baumgardner also reiterated the importance of having medical and psychiatric professionals determining the best care for patients. She used the same example she brought up during the press conference when the bill was introduced. Her scenario involves someone who is experiencing chest pain, and a doctor discovers artery blockage and recommends a stint procedure.

“Imagine if it was not approved by a provider until the person actually has a heart attack,” Baumgardner said. “We would think that’s irrational.”

Baumgardner clarified that she doesn’t view insurance companies as adversaries in this process, but she does believe they need to get involved in the discussion.

“We really need insurance companies to come to the table and work with us to find solutions for Kansans,” Baumgardner said.

Cook said she is anticipating some backlash from the insurance industry, and she has already heard some opinions that the legislation would result in a rise in premiums.

“Yes, it may raise premiums, but ask yourself honestly, if that happened to your child or your sister or your brother, how much would you pay to get them life-saving treatment?” Cook asked.

Rep. Jene Vickrey of Louisburg is the chairman of the state insurance committee, and he remembers when MHPAEA went into effect in 2008. He said he realized then it was limited and only a start.

“It is appropriate to revisit how that’s working and what we can do to make it work better,” Vickrey said. “We need to do all we can to improve access, while keeping it affordable.”

Vickrey said the best way to break down the process will be in hearings, and he anticipates there being a concurrent bill in the House on the topic that will go through hearings.

He also said he has spoken with the family members of Kristi, and he called the situation “heartbreaking.”

Sen. Caryn Tyson of Parker agreed, calling the situation “tragic.”

Tyson said an insurance company that is not in the room with a healthcare provider and patient should not be dictating what can or can’t be done.

“It’s just not right,” Tyson said, adding that it is another component of a health care crisis that includes issues like Medicaid expansion and the Osawatomie State Hospital.

Rep. Mark Samsel agreed, adding that he is appalled by any current standard that would reject a patient because their mental health issue is not severe enough.

“That is concerning to me,” he said.

After not discussing the issue in 2019, Samsel said it has been made abundantly clear to him by talking with his constituents that the issue needs to be addressed in the 2020 session.

“We need to be having these discussions in our committee meetings,” Samsel said. “Hopefully, this is a good start in the right direction.”

Jerry said he is pleased to see momentum on passing new legislation, even if he knows it won’t bring back his daughter.

“We’re trying to make something positive out of something horrible,” Jerry said, adding that he and his family members plan to see the process through to the end.

“We intend to save lives with this legislation,” he said.


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Gilman was sports legend, community leader in Paola

PAOLA — The Paola Panther family lost one of its true legends and community leaders with the passing of Joseph Richard “Dick” Gilman.

Gilman, 92, passed away Thursday, Jan. 2.

He touched thousands of lives in the Paola community, serving the high school for more than five decades as teacher, coach, assistant principal and athletic director. He also volunteered many hours with numerous clubs and organizations, including as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army collections at Christmas.

Gilman was the first person inducted into the Paola High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 1996. He was inducted into the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2012.

A memorial visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 10, at the Paola Chapel at 305 N. Pearl St. A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 11, at the Paola United Methodist Church at 209 S. Silver St. in Paola.

He was born in Atchison on July 14, 1927, to JR. Gilman Sr. and Opal Thomas Gilman. His father J.R. was a lieutenant colonel In the United States Army Reserve and was called up prior to World War II. He was assigned to Little Rock, Ark. He was later stationed to Jefferson Barracks in Webster Groves. Mo.

Gilman graduated from Webster Groves High School in 1945 and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.

He was a starting quarterback for the University of Kansas in college. Gilman still holds several school records. He was an All-Big Seven Conference quarterback that season.

Gilman has his own Topps football card, printed in 1950 when he was a prospect coming out of the University of Kansas.

In addition to football, Gilman was an outstanding pitcher for the Jayhawks. He struck out 90 batters in 107 innings in 1949. Another record that has stood the test of time is his 10 complete games pitched. The baseball team went 11-7 winning the Big Seven Conference that year. It was the Jayhawks last baseball conference title until 2006.

Gilman signed a contract with the New York Yankees and played with Mickey Mantle. He was Mantle’s roommate during a camp in Phoenix which was for selected prospects. A shoulder injury ended his baseball career.

He returned to Lawrence and married Mary Wilkins on Nov. 24, 1950, at the Plymouth Congregational Church. The two were married for nearly 65 years, raising four children — Joe Gilman (Judy), Tom Gilman (Patti), Georgia Gilman (James) and Mary Minden (Bruce).

Gilman began working at Paola High School in fall 1957 where he served as a teacher and administrator. He was vice principal for more than 30 years.

He served the community as a member of the Paola Foster Grandparents, Paola Lions Club, P.A.C.A, the Paola United Methodist Church, the Paola American Legion Post 156, and the Salvation Army where he served as a bell ringer for the Christmas collection.

Gilman coached the football team and started the PHS wrestling program. He would later serve as athletic director.

Gilman and Dick Burns of Bonner Springs started the first high school wrestling programs in eastern Kansas in 1965. Gilman coached the Paola Panther wrestling team from 1965 to 1985 with three state champion wrestlers and one grand state runner-up. He led Paola to two regional titles and two third-place Class 3A state finishes.

Gilman was the Paola Panther head football coach from 1957 to 1976 with an 87-79 record. He led Paola to four Pioneer League championships and two undefeated league seasons 1970 (8-0) and 1971 (7-0).

Paola coach Steve Gorsuch started his career as an assistant wrestling coach with Gilman.

“I had the utmost respect for him,” Gorsuch said. “If it wasn’t for Larry McGee and Dick Gilman, there is a good chance I wouldn’t be here in Paola right now.

“Dick Gilman was a hero,” Gorsuch said. “He was a paratrooper. He played football and baseball at Kansas. He gave his time to the community. He loved to give me a hard time. I would see him at Price Chopper and he would always look in my cart and see what I was getting.”

There is a way of doing things in Paola, Panther football coach Michael Dumpert said. It is a way — the Panther way — that was inspired by Dick Gilman.

“Mr. Gilman was larger than life to me as a new teacher and coach,” Dumpert said “In a word, he was iconic. He was a role model in professionalism — a living, breathing resource who was willing to share his incredible knowledge and experiences.

“My core beliefs when working with students and athletes were shaped by conversations I had with him” Dumpert said. “He opened my eyes to the responsibilities that go beyond the X’s and O’s , and the impact we have on the kids.”

He was also a driver’s education instructor at the high school.

“Mr. Gilman was one of a kind and touched the lives of a countless number of students and their families over the years,” said former student and coworker Dorothy Powell. “I have many great memories of being in his driver’s ed class and then working with him a decade later in the Paola High School office. He will be greatly missed.”

Brian Duncan, a 1978 graduate of Paola High School, wrestled and played football for coach Gilman and nominated him for the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

“He was a mentor, a father figure and a friend to hundreds, if not thousands, of impressionable teenagers,” Duncan said. “I have also followed in his footsteps, being a teacher, coaching football and wrestling. He had a way of tapping into your ability and pushing you to be the best athlete as possible and to be the best person as possible.”


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Moon to serve as assistant to city manager

OSAWATOMIE — The city of Osawatomie will usher in 2020 with a new assistant to the city manager.

Samantha Moon will join the City Hall staff as assistant to the city manager effective Monday, Jan. 6, interim City Manager Mike Smith announced Tuesday, Dec. 31, in a news release.

Currently vice president of the Osawatomie Public Library’s board of directors, Moon studied English and creative writing at Baker University. She spent 15 years working in grocery retail where she reached the position of store manager before joining the library staff in July 2019, according to the release.

Smith said that after a search which resulted in interviews with four capable candidates from across the region, he decided to promote an internal applicant.

“We’re looking forward to her joining us in January,” Smith said.

In addition to her position on the library board, Moon has served a variety of community service positions, including several years on the former John Brown Jamboree Committee.

The city had several good applicants, and Moon was the best fit for this position, Mayor Mark Govea said.

“She is a very smart, hardworking and creative person with great skills,” Govea said. “She has a strong interest in what’s best for this community and someone that will be here for a while. It will be nice having a homegrown person in this very important position.”

The opening occurred when Meagan Borth resigned as assistant city manager effective Dec. 27 to accept a position with the city of Lake Jackson, Texas, Smith said in the news release.

“Miss Borth proved invaluable during her tenure as assistant city manager, and we wish her well in her next chapter.” Smith said.


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Gardner seeks annexation of water plant

PAOLA — Miami County commissioners said they understand the city of Gardner’s need to expand its water treatment plant on Moonlight Road in Miami County.

The southern Johnson County community’s population has tripled since the water plant was built in 1997 and has added about 5,000 more residents since the plant was expanded in 2008, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

But commissioners asked some hard questions about Gardner’s petition for an island annexation of about 20 acres at 22705 S. Moonlight Road where the community’s Hillsdale Water Treatment Facility is located in Miami County. The city draws its raw water from the Hillsdale Lake reservoir to serve its estimated 21,871 residents, according to a current U.S. Census estimate.

Gardner purchased the Moonlight Road property in the 1990s and now would like to bring it under the city’s regulatory control as it prepares to expand the plant from the ability to treat 4 million gallons of water per day to 6 million gallons per day.

The ultimate goal is to expand the treatment plant to 12 million gallons per day in the next 25 to 30 years, said Gonzalo Garcia, the city’s utilities director. Garcia said the expansion fits on the existing parcel owned by the city of Gardner.

Garcia, Gardner City Attorney Ryan Denk and John Mitchell with Burns & McDonnell discussed the proposed annexation with county commissioners during a public hearing at the commission’s Dec. 27 meeting.

“The basis and the need for the annexation request by the city principally is to have the site under the city’s regulatory control,” Denk said. “And why that is critically important is because of all the permitting, the processing of those permits and the way we have designed the contract with the contractor is there will be several rounds of regulatory review and approves for this new construction.

“Then as we go forward into the future the same would be true when we do the future expansions up to the 12 million gallons,” he said.

Denk said the city staff anticipates that if the annexation is not approved it would significantly delay the project. He said the city of Gardner staff’s understanding is that Miami County would have to farm out review of the plans to a third party because the county does not have anyone in-house who specializes in construction of water plants.

“You would have to wait for their availability to review the plans, and then there is, obviously, additional significant costs associated with that, and that would significantly disrupt both the schedule and the cost for this project going forward,” Denk said. “So that is why the city has proposed to annex the property.”

On Aug. 19, 2019, the Gardner City Council awarded a contract to the Joint Venture Group of Burns & McDonnell and CAS Contractors, LLC for construction of the proposed plant expansion. The city filed the annex petition with the county Oct. 7, 2019.

Burns & McDonnell’s Mitchell said a design-build process was chosen for the plant to compress the construction schedule.

“The main reason why the city has chosen the design-build process is because they’re really out of water now,” Mitchell said.

Gardner experienced a water shortage in summer 2018 that required the city to impose water restrictions, utilities director Garcia said.

“How the design-build process works to compress the schedule is we can overlap the design and construction and do those almost simultaneously,” Mitchell said.

When a portion of the design is completed, construction of that particular element of the project can begin, he said.

“By doing that (design-build overlap), we can compress the schedule for the project by about one year. Our timeline to be able to produce water is spring of 2021,” Mitchell said. “In a conventional process where we complete 100 percent of the design and then have that 100 percent of the design package reviewed, approved and released for construction, it adds about 12 months to the process.”

Denk provided the commission with a list of island annexations that have been approved by the county at various times in the past — including some water and wastewater facilities, as well as other areas such as Louisburg’s annexation of Middle Creek Lake and Osawatomie’s annexation of the city golf course, city lake and city cemetery.

“The city of Gardner is simply asking for similar treatment that has been granted (to other municipalities) in the past,” Denk said.

THIRD PARTY REVIEW

Commissioner Rob Roberts, the commission’s chairman for 2020, said he has a great deal of respect for Burns & McDonnell and is familiar with the company’s work. But he challenged the notion that bringing in the county’s consulting firm — Institute for Building Technology and Safety (IBTS) — to review the plans would hold up the project.

He also addressed work that had already taken place at the plant.

“How do you folks explain the fact that you began building your project prior to even receiving any oversight from the county and prior to us even having your annexation request?” Roberts asked. “Is it because you just simply don’t want to be under the county’s jurisdiction?”

Denk said the annexation petition was filed before the work began.

“I actually think you had the petition. It was filed back in October,” Denk said to Roberts. “It was, quite frankly, a misunderstanding. Under our understanding of the code, we could pour foundations without pulling permits, and your code enforcement folks took a different interpretation, so that’s the difference. It wasn’t an overt attempt to try to do an end-around your process.”

Several of the commissioners asked if the city of Gardner has ever had a problem with the county in the past that had factored into the annexation request. Garcia said he had been with the city a little more than three years so he could not speak from a historical perspective.

“When we approached the (Miami County) Planning Department, they were very receptive to the Hillsdale (water plant) expansion, so I would not have anticipated any problems,” Garcia said.

Gardner representatives emphasized the need for the expansion.

ISLAND ANNEXATION

“I think we’re supportive of making sure everybody has water, and I don’t think the expansion is really in question,” Commissioner Tyler Vaughan said. But “I am not hearing a valid explanation of the annexation.”

Vaughan said the planning department has done very well under the unfortunate circumstance of Gardner not pulling the permit up front by still allowing some limited work without the permit in place.

“You’re a city, you know how permitting works. We’re a county, we know how permitting works,” Vaughan said. “We have conversations with our cities all the time. There’s coordination between us and we work really well together, not waiting until a public hearing to hear from the city (of Gardner) to propose annexing a piece of property when work has already been done.”

Commissioner George Pretz said he had not heard a good explanation of why using the county’s third party consultant IBTS to review the project would cause delays.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, three county residents who live near or across the road from the Gardner water plant raised several points as to why they were opposed to the annexation.

Tom Bach asked what benefit the annexation would provide to the county.

“If you allow the annexation, you (the county) would lose control of that piece of ground forever, and it could damage the surrounding area and the residents of that area and put the county in a detrimental position,” Bach said. “To me this is nothing more and nothing less than a conditional-use permit.

“If we have the ability in this county to work with them on a professional basis, a permitting basis and approval basis, then there should be minimal if any delays in this project.”

Phil Osborn cited activities that had occurred at the plant site such as survey work, without the courtesy of notifying neighboring residents.

“If there is a clear advantage to this annexation, then I defer to the board,” Osborn said. “If there is not a clear advantage to the taxpayers of Miami County, I strongly encourage the board to stand up to Gardner’s expansion efforts and deny this annexation.”

Fred Fraley said he lives across the street from the water plant.

“This is an industrial situation placed in a rural setting,” Fraley said. “It was there when I came (eight months ago) but it was back behind the trees — it wasn’t on everybody’s border line and it wasn’t creating the heavier traffic that it’s going to create.”

Fraley said he agreed with commissioners that a conversation between the city and county regarding the proposed annexation and plant expansion should have started a year ago.

“I want to drive down a peaceful quiet street,” Fraley said. “This is a residential neighborhood and this is an industrial use that’s going to be hard to fit in here especially if you let control go to somebody that’s not even in the area.”

Denk reiterated building a water treatment plant is a highly specialized project. He reinforced the need for the design-build process to expedite construction (a Burns & McDonnell engineer would be on site throughout construction).

“If you don’t have that expertise in-house, it is our professional staff’s opinion that it will cause delays,” Denk said. “We’re talking about a $25 million project and there are delay charges in our contract if we’re not meeting our timelines. So it’s real money, and there’s a real process that would be delayed if this annexation petition is not permitted.

“Again, I think all we’re asking for is similar treatment to what’s been done for others in the past,” he said.

Commissioners took no action on the annexation petition and plan to continue their discussion at the Wednesday, Jan. 8, meeting.