Kansas Neurological Institute

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Kansas Neurological Institute
Construction Began 1942
Current Status Active
Building Style Cottage Plan
Alternate Names
  • Winter Veteran's Hospital


In the late 1950s the need for more centers for people with intellectual disabilities (at that time referred to as "mental retardation") became a concern for the Division of Institutional Management, the governing entity. Like many other states Kansas operated several institutions. The other state institutions providing care to people with intellectual disabilities were overcrowded, with each carrying a waiting list for admissions.

At approximately the same time, the Veterans Administration moved from the site of Kansas Neurological Institute (KNI) to a new hospital directly west of their former site. The Division of Institutional Management conceived the idea of acquiring the old buildings due to their availability and their proximity to other resources located in and around Topeka. KNI was created in response to a legislative mandate to provide for "the evaluation, treatment and care of the mentally retarded, training of personnel and for research into causes and prevention and proper methods of treatment and training of mentally retarded children."

In July 1959 the land and buildings were transferred to the state of Kansas and restoration of the buildings began. The restoration toward a functional residential hospital was a monumental task. The original structures had been built as the Winter VA Hospital in 120 days during 1942; they were to last a maximum of five years but had been utilized for eighteen years prior to the state acquiring the grounds. The property had been completely abandoned and without heat for a year, leaving floors to loosen, foundations to shift, and buried utility lines to deteriorate further. A goal was set for all of the buildings to be replaced within twenty years.

On January 5, 1960, KNI opened the doors for the admission of its first six residents. Many people admitted during the first year had been waiting for institutional care for several years. By November 1960 approximately 200 people had been admitted. At that time the institutional field held that not much could be done for people with intellectual disabilities, so not much was done. However, that philosophy soon changed. Dr. Clement C. Vickery, KNI's original superintendent, began noting the gains in development many of the children were making. Greater emphasis began being placed on teaching and on providing a supportive climate. In a budget justification, Vickery wrote, ". . . the child's total needs must be met. His greatest needs start with a proper environment."

In the early days KNI operated on a medical model of service delivery. The medical community drove the processes being utilized at KNI. Psychiatric aides delivered many of the therapies and programs under the direction of the nursing department. Since the people being served were all children, and because of the medical orientation, the supports looked much different from those of today.

The physical structure of KNI moved ahead with the change in treatment focus. A new power plant was constructed in 1965. Following a setback with the 1966 tornado, construction on the first new residential building began in 1969. Sunflower Lodge was operational and serving nearly 100 people in early 1970. For the first time since KNI opened, some of the people were living in new homes as opposed to the old ramp structures from World War II. During the same year came an annual review process for people's programs. The wheelchair modification program and Work Activity Center were under way. The 1970s also saw national movement toward standards of service for institutions brought on by litigation involving institutional populations. A greater focus began being placed on care, dignity, basic human rights, and legal rights. Federal regulations governing intermediate care facilities arose in the mid-1970s. Development and Training Specialists began providing direct support to the people living at KNI, replacing the Psychiatric Aides of the early years.

KNI's population grew quickly. By 1963 there were 325 children living in the institution. By 1971 the census had grown to around 450. The focus of treatment evolved as well. In 1969 a shift was made from the medical model to a program of active goal-directed treatment, education, and habilitation which could lead to eventual placement outside the institution. With the advent of the "treatment team," treatment began shifting from a ward-centered living program to a developmental model.

Meadowlark Lodge was completed in 1972, and Cottonwood Lodge followed in 1973. Now, nearly 300 people were living in new residential units. KNI began being recognized as a developmental disabilities resource center, providing diagnostic evaluations and recommendations for the most appropriate placements for people with intellectual disabilities. Short-term respite services were also being offered. During the 1970s KNI's population began changing. Originally established to provide services to children, KNI saw many people remaining institutionalized past their school years. So, in the 70s, services were expanded to include adults.

Pleasantview was opened as the main dining facility in 1974. Flint Hills Lodge opened in 1975. Honey Bee Lodge, including areas for medical services, opened in 1979. Finally, all people living at KNI were moved out of the old ramp structures into newer, more modern, and better-suited living areas. Many old buildings were torn down as people moved their homes into the new structures. The number of people receiving supports stayed fairly constant, between 380 and 450, through the 1970s and into the early 1980s. Wheatland Center was operational in 1981. It housed administrative services, many adjunctive services, staff training, and the special purpose school. With the opening of Wheatland, the rest of the ramp structures could be razed.

Throughout the early 1980s, the census of KNI remained consistent with that of the 1970s. At the same time, staffing numbers were increasing. A sharp increase in staffing was realized from 1984-91. The greater ratio of staff to people living at KNI was realized and supports grew with better staffing. KNI began being recognized as a regional resource center for northeast Kansas with diagnostic evaluations, continued respite services, and other technical assistance. Toward the end of the 1980s, these services were expanded to include consultations in the community with the goal of keeping people in their home communities near their families. Funding started to become available for additional community resources providing a greater array of services and supports. Consequently, admissions to KNI started dropping off, and early in the 1990s they were kept to a minimum. With scaled-back admissions and out-movement of people from the institution, the number of people being supported started to decrease. The average age of people being served in the 1980s continued to go up such that the majority of those receiving support were adults.

The 1990s saw the introduction of person-centered supports, still better staffing ratios, self-directed work teams, and further reductions in the number of people living at KNI. By 1993 approximately 300 people were receiving the support of the institution. Many homes at KNI began processes of remodeling. Fewer and fewer people were needing to go to the central dining facility as a result of fully functioning kitchens being constructed in the homes. The focus of supports centered around fewer people in each home, more choice, expanded opportunities for productivity and independence, and efforts to promote more inclusionary activities. The efforts began being guided by self-directed work teams of direct supporters with utilization of adjunctive services as needed by each individual.

In October 2007, KNI has a census of 163 people. Efforts continue to help people who experience developmental disabilities live a life of personal growth and well-being. Additionally, KNI functions as a leader and resource to community agencies and people with intellectual disabilities throughout the state of Kansas. Adaptive technologies, mobility assistance, behavioral consultation, advocacy, and staff training are but a few of the broad array of services KNI provides to the people of Kansas. The staff of the Kansas Neurological Institute hold values consistent with the continuation as a leader in the Midwest, forging ahead in helping people realize life-enhancing choice, valued relationships, productivity, independence, respect, full inclusion, and individuality.[1]

Images of Kansas Neurological Institute[edit]

Main Image Gallery: Kansas Neurological Institute


  1. History of the Kansas Neurological Institute Written by Dave Skinner Source: http://srskansas.org/kni/About%20Us/History.asp