Heavenly Acres was your typical convalescent home, or “rest home”, if you will. Sitting in a quiet suburb of Kansas countryside, Heavenly Acres was, for all intents and purposes, exactly what it was supposed to be, a welcoming place where those who could no longer tend for themselves went to be taken care of.
In a way, rest homes like Heavenly Acres were the last opportunity for a member of upper middle class to show off their wealth. For while they couldn’t afford to sit in a mansion and be tended to by private servants; they could at least spend their final days being tended to by a staff, servants if you like, that were shared by many in a more modest but still pleasant setting. They don’t call them “the golden years” for nothing; one has to have the means to pay to be taken care of at a place even as modest as Heavenly Acres.
And modest it was. Looking more like a motel than a mansion, what Heavenly Acres lacked in pillars and balconies it made up for in practical care. The residents and staff of Heavenly Acres didn’t know how good they had it. And they had no idea how bad it could be. All that would change.
Decades after Heavenly Acres had established itself as a modest but nice rest home, drastic changes in the application of state mandated mental health care swept the country. Enormous state mental hospitals that were once an industry all their own were suddenly being scaled back or closed altogether. One would think a place like Heavenly Acres and state mandated mental hospitals or “insane asylums” as many called them would have nothing in common and nothing to do with each other. In a common sense world, they wouldn’t. But all too often, when states run out of money is right about the same time that they are most apt to run low on common sense. Kansas was no different.
In 1978, the Kansas State Legislature enacted numerous budget reduction mandates, including laws that shuttered most state hospitals, releasing the inmates deemed least likely to be a threat to society. While they did keep the most dangerous locked up, they wrote the laws so as to continue to downscale state mental facilities as inmates passed away or were released. In short, while the state was well aware that there would be future offenders that would be found legally insane and therefore have to be housed in a mental facility rather than a prison, they were in essence saying they were not going to continue to fund behemoth facilities to house them. The budget was short today, where those deemed insane in the future would be housed was a problem for another day; and for another kind of facility.
The approach that when one can’t afford a mansion they find a more modest setting was about to be applied by judges across the state of Kansas. The court system was not able to go on hold just because the state was broke. Judges were quickly faced with the decision of where to place the mentally ill. The more modest setting most settled on was rest homes. They were already in place. They were already staffed. It was almost a common sense downsizing, to some, but not to the residents of facilities like Heavenly Acres. Not to the staff of facilities like Heavenly Acres. They were not ready; they were far from ready for such a change. But the change was law and those that had written the laws had already moved on to other things.
While what the state enacted was indeed law and the rest homes now had to accept any patient the state mandated, that did not mean everyone involved had to stand by and watch. The rest home residents that could move in with family or afford other accommodations quickly moved out, escaping the effects of the change. Likewise, staff that could afford to leave the profession or find another also left.
And thus, the early stages of the decline. Longtime friends separated as residents left. The best staff moved on to hospital jobs, leaving the lesser trained staff for the residents that remained. These were the early effects of the law, affecting the quality of life in rest homes across Kansas.
Not everyone could afford to leave. Not everyone had someone to move in with. Not everyone could find another job or get by without this one. They were the ones that saw the next stage; “the arrival”, the arrival of the first wave of state mandated mental health patients who would otherwise have been housed in a more secure facility.
That is when staff really started to leave in droves. That is when the homes had to start hiring a lower quality of staff, staff that would never have been considered for employment before. The law was the law and if the good staff left, the homes still had to be staffed. That is when employees that quite possibly should have been patients themselves began to run the homes. Not just a lower quality of employee, but what the residents feared most, sadists. The definition of a sadist is someone who enjoys inflicting pain on others, and as sadists found out that they could be “in control” at these homes, they quickly learned how to fill out a job application or made someone fill one out for them.
The new “residents” and the new “staff” quickly ruined anything golden about rest homes in Kansas. Over time, stories started to get out. Some discounted them as rumors, some as urban legend. As the years went by, the stories grew. The stories coming out of Heavenly Acres were no different. Of the legends that are told about Heavenly Acres, the following seem to come up again and again: That there is a tall orderly who is beyond mean. It is common sense that the home will only hold so many residents but the courts keep sending more. The rumor is that this particularly mean orderly has taken a liking to mentally and physically torturing the residents, particularly the sane ones that will suffer the most. Some say he justifies it because the sane ones complain more, but other versions say he enjoys the insane population more. Either way it’s told, death comes quicker for some when this orderly is getting his kicks.
To keep the community from finding out about how many residents have died and how they were tortured, the story is that this orderly has gone to incinerating them in the home’s furnace. Legend says that the burnings became so common that his face and clothes were stained white from the ashes and that he drags the shovel he uses to empty the ashes from the furnace with him everywhere he goes, letting the sound of it serve as a reminder to all that can hear it that he is in charge.
Some locals that have gotten close to the home say you can hear screaming at all hours of the night. Others say that there is a group of women who have barricaded themselves in part of the home and still live a somewhat “normal” if sheltered life. They have supposedly banded together to keep the insane out of their sealed off domain. The legend is that the women were smart enough to grab their records while the good staff was still in charge and that the mean orderly and others don’t know for sure how many of them there are or where they tucked themselves away, so with all his other duties and “interests”, the mean orderly spends his days and nights trying to find the women who have holed up somewhere in that home, the women just trying to hold on to some sense of normalcy while living out their days in the only place they can.
None of these stories can be corroborated of course. You’d have to go in there to know for sure and what are the odds even then you’d get the whole story? With the rest homes of Kansas now being deemed state mental facilities, it isn’t like you can just walk in and ask questions anymore. Even a member of the press would have to be deserving of being a “resident” to want to go in there today. Heavenly Acres has become a hole, a Hell in fact. The closest locals have come to going in is to sneak up to it at night, as close as they can dare each other to. Someone even got so brave as to spray paint “Asylum” on one end of the home. One rumor is the kid or kids got away; the other rumor is that the mean orderly got them. No one knows for sure who did it or if anyone claiming to have done it is telling the truth, so just like everything else coming out of Heavenly Acres these days, it’s just a story.
With the state still having money problems and the world the way it is today, one can be pretty sure some folks in the area are still being found mentally incompetent and sent to homes instead of prisons, forcing the homes to stay open and whatever staff and clientele remain to be forced to deal with the issue.
Some advocates for the elderly resolved the issue by starting a new type of rest home called “Assisted Living”. By having a different name, these facilities are able to avoid the law that requires rest homes to take the legally insane while also escaping much of the stigma that rest homes like Heavenly Acres still get today.
One reason so many locals think the stigma and stories are just legend is because stories are the only thing that have ever escaped Heavenly Acres. While we don’t know of anyone that’s gone in there for awhile, no one knows of anyone that’s come out.
Until someone is brave enough to go in and look around, that’s probably how things will stay around here.
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