Photo by George Lauby
Basic room at the Pawnee
As we watch the Pawnee Hotel operation teeter on the brink of collapse, we have to wonder what is wrong, not only with mental health care, but with all of us. Our forebearers would be disappointed.
Eighty-some years ago, the Pawnee was built out of concrete. It was built to last. It would probably stand for another century without sagging.
The problem is that our attitude is sagging.
The building itself needs new wiring, plumbing, heating, carpets, elevator and windows. That is a lot of things, but they are relatively minor compared to the impressive, basic solid structure. Even the stairways show very little wear, 80-some years after thousands of travelers began using them.
The worst trouble at the Pawnee is not wear and tear of the building, but the attitude we have toward it.
We often doubt that we can successfully treat mental illness, even though we spend lots of money in that direction. Too often, counselors are overloaded and medicines are used as tranquilizers, not tools to help a patient get well. Too often, no programs systematically help a patient adjust again to independent living.
As we watch, we worry about the hotel building itself. We are fearful that fixing it up would be cost-prohibitive, even though, ironically, the city finds ways to support a money-losing golf course.
It is not beyond us to become a model of good mental health care. We don’t have too many to treat. We have an affordable place to treat them, and out of necessity the Pawnee has learned how to operate for far less money than most other places.
The staff is weary, but those who remain, including Director Sandy Schade, are battle-hardened.
We could abandon ship, let the place fail and close up; let the state find new places for residents, but treatment will too often be unsuccessful in those places too.
And then we will wonder what to do with the landmark hotel, contemplating the least costly alternative – demolition and another parking lot.
Or, we can build the struggling operation and live up to our role of a leading community in Nebraska.
We don’t need another downtown parking lot on what was once North Platte’s liveliest corner, where our forebearers built quality buildings to last for centuries.