"You know it's nice because sometimes you're not sure if people are liking what you're doing," Kansas Representative Brad Ralph said during a ceremony in his honor Tuesday.

Kerry Tirman, CEO of Western Plains Medical Complex, among other representatives, gave Ralph a special thank you for his support of health care issues during the latest session for the Kansas legislation on behalf of the Kansas Hospital Association.

"To see people personally face to face is nice even though you know that you don't make everyone happy," Ralph said.

Ralph will return to Topeka on Jan. 8, 2018, for the first session of the new year.

Once there, some of the key issues Ralph will be working on will be education and mental health.

"Off the bat we will tackle education," he said. "From there, there is some uncertainty because we aren't sure who could be governor by that time but education is a huge issue as well as mental health.

"You know our funding on mental health is seeing a crunch in smaller communities and that leads to our law enforcement officers having to deal with a lot of these issues that if we had mental health providers, they could be helping ease the burden and get people the help they need."

One of the ways in Dodge City that could relieve that burden would be the possible mid-level college possibly going in at the former St. Mary of the Plains campus, Ralph said.

"It would be a significant boost to not just the area but the entire state," he said. "Being able to allow additional health care providers to grow here in southwest Kansas would be huge."

Some of the key votes Ralph voted on were KanCare reform and expansion, reversal of the 2016 Medicaid provider cuts, and the conceal carry exemption for public hospitals, according to WPMC.

"We want Brad to know much we, as health care providers, appreciate his support," said Tirman. "Representative Ralph was the only one aligned with us, the Kansas Hospital Association, 100 percent of the time.

"What we're doing with health care right now is blowing it up. Health care is not sustainable. For us the financial challenges we go through on a daily basis are the hardest things I have had to do in my professional career.

"Right now, hospitals are going bankrupt, organizations are laying people off, and to have the support that you know you are being heard because this is about as hard as the industry is being able to get without having to effect patient care.

"The industry has really made the cuts it can make at the bedside, now we're making cuts in the over-head world.

"It's a challenging environment, and it's great to have someone from your town, who will listen to you and have a voice in support of you and the Kansas Hospital Association really wanted to make sure that we showed our appreciation."

To contact the writer email vmarshall@dodgeglobe.com