Dr. Rema Menon planned to only work in the medical clinic at Parsons State Hospital and Training Center for a short time.
“I came to stay here two years,” Menon said.
After that she thought she would return to the Kansas City area.
More than 42 years later, Menon celebrated her retirement as clinic director Wednesday from the hospital with co-workers, friends, family and residents.
Menon moved to the United States in 1974 after graduating from medical school in India. After having her first son and staying home a while, she started work at PSHTC on July 5, 1977. After the medical director had to leave because of an illness, Menon was named acting director in 1980, a role she planned to fulfill only temporarily. She thought she would try it out to see if she would like it. The medical director then was in charge of all medical staff.
“I supervised basically everyone,” Menon said.
Eventually the job was changed to clinical director after Gary Daniels became hospital superintendent.
Menon said she stayed at the hospital in her role as director so long because she felt there was meaning in her work, and she enjoyed treating the patients so much.
“I feel like I was making a difference in their lives,” Menon said.
When she arrived, Menon soon found out that most of the patients were overmedicated. She wanted proof that all of the medication was needed, and if it wasn’t Menon began reducing it one by one. Some hospital residents were on five or six medications. Menon said she bean peeling away at them like an onion.
“Most of the time, you’d get a new person,” she said.
The rest of the staff was leery at first, but eventually they saw a positive outcome in the patients. They were talking and moving around more and generally became more active. The staff got on board after learning Menon was doing the right thing.
“Everybody wants to do what’s best for these individuals,” Menon said.
Gradually the hospital’s philosophy changed to active treatment, and Menon developed a reputation for reducing patients’ medication load and improving their lifestyles.
It’s a reputation she carried up to retirement.
During a reception honoring her on Wednesday, a resident said Menon had been very good to her patients and that he appreciated that she tried to lower their medication instead of increasing it.
Daniels, the former superintendent, said that shortly after Menon arrived she came to him to talk about the “tons” of tranquilizers the residents were being given, to the point of it being illegal.
“She said, ‘We’re going to take them off,’ and it kind of panicked everybody initially. But she was right every time,” Daniels said.
Current PSHTC Superintendent Mike Dixon said everybody at the hospital is affected by Menon. He said the hospital is not only losing a medical director but also a good person.
Dixon told a story about when he went on a cruise recently. He was worried about leaving behind his mother with health problems. When he returned, he found out that Menon had gone to visit her a few times, although he didn’t ask her to.
Dixon said Menon had seen 1,225 new admissions since she started. Counting the 300 residents who were already there in 1977, she has seen 1,525 patients.
“I guarantee you she knew the medical history of every one of them,” Daniels said.
Dr. Sheela Kishore attested to that. The retired doctor who worked at Labette County Medical Center (now Labette Health) said that Menon knew the medical history of every patient sent to LCMC. All of their lab work was up to date, and Menon always followed up with LCMC on every patient. It was always a pleasure to take care of her patients, she said. Kishore also knew the Menon family as the Kishore and Menon children went to school together. Kishore said the family was wonderful.
Dr. Terry Rothstein said Menon is irreplaceable and an incredible and passionate person.
One mother of a resident said that she has known Menon for 32 years. The care she gave her son was wonderful. It meant the world to her and her husband, and Menon means the world to them as well.
Menon said before the reception that she actually had planned to retire last year, but Dixon talked her into staying to help him out as a new superintendent.
“I promised I’d help him one more year. That’s it,” Menon said.
Now she plans to move to Las Vegas, where some of her friends live and she can be closer to her sons, Ravi and Mo, who live in Seattle and Pomona, California. She also plans to travel.
Menon said she will miss Parsons, where she raised her family and enjoyed working with everyone at PSHTC.
“I like the town. I like the people,” she said.