County official admits to communication breakdown on Gardner hotel housing COVID-19 patients

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GARDNER, Kan. – The assistant manager of Johnson County says there was a breakdown in communication when it came to notifying some county agencies about a Gardner hotel that’s housing COVID-19 patients.

On Wednesday, FOX4 reported that some county officials, including the sheriff and the vice chair of the County Board of Commissioners, didn’t know the facility existed.

“The notification process obviously could have been done better,” Joe Connor, the assistant county manager, said Thursday.

Connor said the County Manager’s Office, Emergency Management and the Department of Health & Environment were notified in June that the state was looking for alternative housing for people exposed to the coronavirus.

The non-congregant housing at the Super 8 in Gardner opened on July 3. Nearly a week later, many elected officials in the county were still unaware.

Connor said that was a mistake.

“We weren’t operating in total operation,” he said. “I think where the breakdown was is that it didn’t make it to the elected official levels and some of the management levels.”

Connor explained that part of the disconnect had to do with the county using at least two other hotels, prior to the one in Gardner, for similar use.

He said they did not notify elected officials then either. He didn’t share the locations of those hotels with FOX4 because of privacy concerns. 

“The hoteliers worked with us and had a lot of vacancies apparently, so they were able to isolate and not rent the rooms anywhere near the two rooms we needed,” he said.

The facility in Gardner is different. The state is renting out the entire hotel for people who have either tested positive for COVID-19 or have been exposed to the virus and want a safe space to quarantine from their family.

“We support the concept through emergency management. We support the concept of having a place for people to go to isolate,” Connor said.

In all, there are a total of six non-congregant facilities across the state — Gardner, Leavenworth, Dodge City, Emporia, Liberal and Manhattan.

The Department for Children and Families manages the day-to day operations, ensuring that the residents are fed and have clean laundry.

As noted in FOX4’s original report, residents are not required to stay in the facility. However, if they leave, the county health officer is notified, according to DCF.

Gardner Mayor Steve Shute has said no one is allowed to leave in a statement on Facebook. DCF’s statement refutes that.

As for the lack of communication across the county about these types of facilities, Connor said his office will work to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

“We need to do better the next time, and I guarantee that we will, but again this wasn’t an intentional thing on our part,” he said.

There are currently a total of 43 people staying in non-congregate housing across the state. DCF would not share exact numbers for each location, citing HIPAA laws.

To read more about non-congregant housing in Kansas, click here

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