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Some Johnson County Officials Upset About Hotel Housing Coronavirus Patients

Lynn Horsley
KCUR 89.3
Commissioner Mike Brown expressed his concern over the hotel in a Facebook Live broadcast of a Johnson County commission meeting.

The sheriff and a county commissioner say they were never informed when the state of Kansas started housing COVID-19 patients in a Super 8 hotel in Gardner.

Johnson County Commissioner Mike Brown and Sheriff Calvin Hayden expressed outrage Thursday over the state of Kansas’ decision to isolate COVID-19 patients in a hotel in Gardner.

“We brought positive COVID-19 patients into the heart of my district, around people who aren’t generally sick. That’s damn near criminal. That’s wrong,” Brown said at the county commission’s weekly meeting. “How dare the governor decide to just import that into Johnson County. What in the world? Why aren’t they in Topeka?”

Brown, who represents a southern Johnson County district, including Gardner, was angry that he hadn’t been notified previously, although state officials did alert Johnson County emergency management and health officials.

Brown said he’d received calls from concerned constituents.

“Why is it here?” he demanded. “Why am I dealing with this?”

In public comments to the commission, Sheriff Hayden also complained about the lack of communication from the state. He said he found out about the hotel indirectly on Wednesday.

Hayden said he and his staff have worked incredibly hard to ensure there are no COVID-19 cases in the jail, but the state had not alerted him to this new facility.

“Somebody knew. As the chief law enforcement officer in Johnson County, I did not,” Hayden said, adding that the commissioners also should have been notified but were not. “You were kept out of the loop. Unacceptable.”

The governor’s office responded Thursday that the need for what's called "non-congregant housing" for COVID-19 patients had been recognized for some time, both in the state and nationally.

“Like states across the country, we have been working – in accordance with FEMA guidelines – with counties across Kansas since April to set up non-congregant housing for their community members including frontline health care workers, individuals who have been exposed to COVID-19, and those in the high-risk category or who have family members in the high risk category,” the governor’s office said in a statement.

“Due to HIPAA laws we can’t share specifics, nor do we think it is appropriate to shame individuals who are self-isolating as an act of social responsibility or in order to protect their or their loved ones' health. When the Kansas Division of Emergency Management contracts with motels, they contract the entire facility, there are no other guests, and they provide on-site support for individuals using the housing.”

Commissioner Jim Allen said it was his understanding that the state is allowed to contract directly with the hotel owner for these types of non-congregant facilities, and the county doesn’t have a role in the decision. Cindy Dunham with the county counselor’s office confirmed it’s a contract between the state and the hotel.

Commissioner Janee Hanzlick pointed out that the county had in the past discussed the potential need for such a shelter, for people who might become infected and be homeless. She said it’s safer to isolate and treat people in these types of facilities than having them living on the streets.

Sanmi Areola, director of Johnson County’s department of health and environment, said it was not his responsibility to approve the facility or to alert the commission, although he knew about the state’s decision and supported it.

“It’s a need,” he said. “I did not oppose this.”

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Gardner Mayor Steve Shute said the Kansas Department of Emergency Management did not consult with him before establishing the non-congregant facility at the Super 8 Motel in Gardner.

Updated: July 9, 2020 at 3:20 PM CDT
Updated to include a response from the state of Kansas.
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