Dealing With Hospital Closure, Pioneer Kansas Town Asks: What Comes Next?

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ngd-There will be increasing closures, especially in rural areas…

Dealing With Hospital Closure, Pioneer Kansas Town Asks: What Comes Next? After depending on the local hospital for more than a century, Fort Scott residents now are trying to cope with life without it.

Just a few months before, Baker — joining with the hospital’s owner, St. Louis-based Mercy — announced the 132-year-old hospital would close. Baker carefully orchestrated face-to-face meetings with doctors, nurses, city leaders and staff members in the final days of September and on Oct. 1. Afterward, she sent written notices to the staff and local newspaper.

For the 7,800 people of Fort Scott, about 90 miles south of Kansas City, the hospital’s closure was a loss they never imagined possible, sparking anger and fear.

And when patients here get sick, many simply go elsewhere. An average of nine patients stayed in Mercy Hospital Fort Scott’s more than 40 beds each day from July 2017 through June 2018. And these numbers are not uncommon: Forty-five Kansas hospitals report an average daily census of fewer than two patients.

James Cosgrove, who directed a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office study about rural hospital closures, said the nation needs a better understanding of what the closures mean to the health of people in rural America, where the burden of disease — from diabetes to cancer — is often greater than in urban areas.

What happens when a 70-year-old grandfather falls on ice and must choose between staying home and driving to the closest emergency department, 30 miles away? Where does the sheriff’s deputy who picks up an injured suspect take his charge for medical clearance before going to jail? And how does a young mother whose toddler fell against the coffee table and now has a gaping head wound cope?

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