Starkey, Inc. CEO: Transportation program critical to quality of life for people with disabilities

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) Starkey, Inc. is growing, and its CEO says he expects that continued growth to make funding its transportation program a challenge.

“This is huge,” said Travis Conley, as he rode the lift to get off the bus.

He was talking about being interviewed for Eyewitness News; he was excited. But what’s really huge is the impact Starkey busses have on his ability to get around.

“I cannot walk,” said Conley. “It’s been hard. I’ve been like this since I was little.”

Conley experiences life from a large, custom wheelchair, which allows his legs to lay out straight.

“Starkey is on the go all the time. And it’s the only way so many people with disabilities that we work for can get where they need to go each day,” said Starkey, Inc. CEO Colin McKenney.

According to McKenney, Starkey will provide approximately 250,000 rides this year to the people it serves.

Most of them will never have a driver’s license, but they still need to get out and do all the things that all of us do; get to appointments and go shopping and just experience our community,” said McKenney.

Conley needs the bus, which is specially equipped to carry him safely, to get to doctor appointments and his day program at Starkey. Those doctor appointments are important for Conley’s health; the day program, for his well-being.

Grace Larson - who works with Conley at Starkey - said, “I try to give him the love and the care that his mother would want for him.”

McKenney says Starkey’s transportation program is a top priority because of quality of life, even though funding is tight.

“Most often, we find a way to make it happen; to get somebody to a concert or the State Fair or other places they need to go, because that is living,” said McKenney.

McKenney is watching numbers from the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services closely.

In October 2018, Eyewitness News shared an investigation into the state’s wait list for Home and Community Based Services. HCBS funding supports programming at Starkey – but not transportation.

At the time, the number of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities on the wait list for services was 3,761. It has since gone up to 4,071.

McKenney said he’d love to see people get the services the need, but the numbers could be problematic for Starkey transit, which – again – is not funded through HCBS.

“If all of a sudden the dollars appeared, and [KDADS] indicated that we’re going to fund services for those individuals, we’d have a lot greater need for all the services Starkey provides, including transportation. That’s one of those things that we’re trying to plan for, which is even more difficult when there’s no identified funding for transportation,” said McKenney.

He would like to see that change, saying transportation is key in helping people like Conley live a full life.

Starkey is finding other ways to accommodate its growth over the years.

A $4 million capital campaign made it possible for Starkey to break ground on a new 20,000 square foot Life Enrichment Program building at 144 S Young St. in Wichita.

Starkey officials say the organization has not undertaken a public capital campaign since 1994. It’s using the money to replace two facilities. One was built in the 1930s; the other, in the 1970s.

Construction of the new Life Enrichment building will take all of 2020, followed by renovation of an existing building on Starkey’s campus in 2021 for its Gateway Program.

The new Life Enrichment Program building will accommodate more than 150 people. It will feature spaces for education, nutrition, arts, volunteer activities and assistance with personal care needs.

According to Starkey, the renovated Gateway Program building will feature a specialized design – including quiet spaces and secure outdoor areas – for 30 people who have challenging behaviors and need intensive supports.

Learn more about Starkey, Inc. here: Starkey.org