By Sarah Jane Tribble: For More Info, Go Here…
It’s been about a year since the hospital in Fort Scott, Kan., closed. The lessons for this community about meeting its residents’ health needs could provide insights for the rest of the country.
Dr. Max Self grabbed a sanitary wipe and cleaned off the small flashlight in his hands. More than 20 years as a family doctor in rural Fort Scott, Kan., has taught him a few tricks: “I’ve got my flashlight. See? Look, you want to hold it?”
Two-year-old Taelyn’s brown eyes grow round and her tiny hand reaches out. But, first, Self makes sure she opens her mouth wide and he peers down. Behind him sits another staff member ― a medical scribe. Self’s scribe gives him the ability to “focus on people,” rather than toggling between a computer screen and the patient. It’s a new perk he didn’t have when he worked at Mercy Hospital.
That beloved hospital closed one year ago and, in the passing months, the small town’s anger and fear evolved into grief, nervousness and ― lately ― pragmatic hope. Most of the handful of physicians in town stayed, taking jobs at a regional federally qualified health care center that took over much of the clinic work from Mercy. The emergency department, after closing for 18 days, was reopened temporarily ― run by a hospital 30 miles south.
It’s not “all gloom and doom, although we all wish we had a hospital ― no doubt about it,” insurance agent Don Doherty said during the town’s weekly Chamber of Commerce coffee on Dec. 12.
Since 2010, 120 rural hospitals have closed across the country ― 19 in this year alone, according to data from the University of North Carolina’s Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research. A national analysis of Medicare cost reports found that 21% of the nation’s remaining rural hospitals are at high risk of closing.
Self’s new employer is Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas, which as a federally qualified health center gets a higher level of government reimbursement for Medicare and Medicaid patients than Mercy did, said Jason Wesco, executive vice president at CHC.
The center can also gain grants to take care of the uninsured, which is important in states like Kansas that did not expand Medicaid, though Wesco said it has not received any for Fort Scott.
Wesco estimates 90-95% of the health care offered before the hospital closed is still available locally. And services have been added, including a much-needed therapist on-site for behavioral health and telehealth access to a psychiatrist and substance abuse services.