Johnson County leaders irked after state sets up Gardner hotel to house COVID-19 patients

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GARDNER, Kan. – The Johnson County sheriff and other county officials are frustrated over a hotel that’s housing COVID-19 patients, citing a “lack of communication” from state officials.

The Super 8, near Interstate 35 and 175th Street, is one of two non-congregant facilities in the metro. The other is an unknown location in Leavenworth County.

Sheriff Calvin Hayden said he didn’t learn of the facility in his jurisdiction until Wednesday morning when of the county’s fire partners asked him about it.

The old hotel houses 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.

“My concern as law enforcement, we respond to all kinds of calls and so does fire and EMTs, and it wasn’t even listed in our CAID system, computer aided dispatch,” Hayden said.

Hayden understands the need might be there, but he said his agency was never notified the facility existed.

A communication failure, he said, potentially poses a problem to his officers and the county as a whole.

“All of law enforcement in Johnson County is sworn to take care of our citizens, and that’s risk I’m not willing to take, and it was forced upon us,” Hayden said. “We didn’t have any choice to do or any input on how to do it more efficiently and effectively.”

Mike Brown, the vice chair and 6th district commissioner for the Board of County Commissioners, which is also the Board of Health, said he was unaware of the facility as well, calling the situation “inexcusable.”

“I serve as the commissioner of the 6th District (in western half of the county) in Johnson County, and I was never made aware of any of these decisions. Our governor and her administration continues to be a failure in policy and communications,” he said.

“It is an outrage that our state has imported to our community an unknown number of COVID-19 positive folks. We as a county have been diligent in holding the very worst of this pandemic at bay, and then our governor who has sworn an oath to protect Kansans brings this pandemic right to our community – and my district’s – front door. This is inexcusable.”

A spokesperson with the governor’s office told FOX4 that they announced in April they were putting up nine non-congregate facilities across the state. However, he acknowledged many of them opened early on, outside of the region.

The spokesperson also told FOX4 there’s some concern that any attention focused on these types of facilities could make it difficult for the state to find future sites.

“Everybody could be exposed,” Hayden said. “Our officers could be exposed. It puts their families in danger, and we don’t know what protocols they’re using to keep people inside the hotel.”

People staying at the facilities are free to come and go, but the state contracts out the entire building, according to Jane Welch with the Kansas Division of Emergency Management. Outside guests are not allowed.

Gardner Mayor Steve Shute later posted in Facebook, saying the state did not consult with city or county leadership, and that he was made aware of the plan after the hotel was already housing patients.

“The fact that there was no advance communication was (and still is) very disturbing to me, as I have always felt that tight co-ordination between all levels of government – local, county, state, and federal – are essential,” he wrote early in the morning the day after this was first reported.

Hayden also said the little oversight is worrisome.

“Especially down in Gardner, there’s a Walmart right there, a Burger King, several restaurants where a lot of people I love go to eat,” he said. “That’s a risk to our citizens that I’m not willing to tolerate.”

After FOX4’s initial report, Mayor Shute refuted these worries, stating that the hotel is closed to visitors and patients are quarantined inside. He said they are not allowed to leave, and residents wanting to visit the surrounding businesses are in no greater danger than before.

He also revealed the number of patients at the hotel. Shute said that there were five people there total: two had tested positive and three have been exposed. Here is his full statement:

FOX4 also reached out to Johnson County Emergency Management to see if they coordinated with the state in setting up the facility. We did not receive a response as of Wednesday evening.

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