County hospital back in town – Trustees opt for East Street site

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April 20, 2011 - 12:00 AM

Hospital trustees went back to Plan A Tuesday night, and decided a new county hospital would be best situated in town as opposed to a rural site.
In a five-to-two vote, trustees weighed in favor of the East Street location as being a bigger draw for prospective physicians to move to Iola, to create a medical campus with the existing nearby pharmacy and physicians’ clinic, and to provide a better experience for patients, especially in regard to air quality.
“Physicians are the engine that drive the hospital,” said Patti Boyd, trustee, directing her comments to a large gathering of local physicians and pharmacists who came in protest of the recently decided rural site. “What we do, we do with you. We will depend on you for the success of the hospital.”

WHAT SWAYED the majority of trustees to reconsider their decision of two weeks ago, was a combination of new facts, old hopes and familiar sentiments.
Jeff Dieker, a pharmacist with Iola Pharmacy, told of his father-in-law’s last days at a Coffey County hospital:
“Every afternoon he’d ask to go outside to get some fresh air,” Dieker said in his soft-spoken manner. “He knew those were his last days, and that breath of fresh air meant the world to him.”
Being downwind of a dairy would rob a patient of that simple request, Dieker, who grew up on a farm, said.
Dr. Darrell Monfort, a veterinarian with Red Barn Veterinary, agreed. 
“I can tell you, you have a problem with the smell,” coming from Strickler Dairy that lies directly to the south of the proposed site on Oregon Road.
“You’re asking for problems you don’t really need,” Monfort said.
Bill Walden, a pharmacist, spoke up for the hospital staff who often enjoy their breaks and meals outside when weather permits.
“I live in that area,” Walden said. “And sometimes I don’t go outside because of the smell.”
Walden said he feared the hospital would be “the butt of a lot of jokes,” if it chose to locate north of town.

THE RURAL site also would prevent Allen County Hospital from being part of a larger medical campus, a concept that is a big draw in recruiting new physicians and specialists, said a number of those in protest.
Dr. Tim Spears, as spokesman for The Family Physicians and Iola Pharmacy, who together form Iola Medical Developers, said the group had planned to “champion the efforts” of a new Medical Arts Building adjacent to the new hospital where specialists such as neurologists, cardiologists, orthopedists, and the like could practice in an outpatient clinic.
Dr. Glen Singer has already met with Iola Industries representatives to start that process, said Spears. If the hospital were built two miles to the north, those plans would be scrapped, he said.
Fact is, the $3.5 million clinic that the group of physicians and pharmacists built only three years ago, is bursting at the seams, said Dr. Brian Wolfe. Rooms previously serving as offices for the physicians are being converted into examination rooms, Wolfe said
The physicians had envisioned a second building that could handle their spillover as well as provide a site for visiting physicians who come to Iola on a weekly basis. Wolfe said the expansion also could include providing administrative services to those visiting physicians.
“Some doctors just want to practice medicine and not deal with billing and other necessary paperwork,” Wolfe said. “We would be able to provide that administrative overhead while allowing them to come practice their specialties.”
Iola Medical Developers has in hand a two-acre parcel, whose soil has been remediated from contaminants from former smelters, for the possible site of the new clinic. The physicians and pharmacists have agreed to “gift”  almost three-fourths of an acre of their land that was deemed necessary by the hospital for its construction. The other land for the medical arts building lies directly to the north of their current facility, which also houses a dentistry practice operated by the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas based in Pittsburg.
For trustee Jay Kretzmeier, that commitment by a large portion of Iola’s current medical providers to work in concert with Iola Industries to build a clinic for visiting specialists was the tipping point for his vote for the in-town location.
Kretzmeier recognized the $3.5 million the physicians and pharmacists had put toward their current facility on East Street and their willingness to further invest in an additional clinic.
“I’m being convinced that the additional medical specialists who will want to come to Iola because of the new clinic will offset the risks of perhaps delaying the building project to next spring,” Kretzmeier said.
“I’m trying to deal with the least amount of risk here,” said Kretzmeier, an accountant.
Plans for a medical arts building were not included in the original hospital’s construction budget. Visiting specialists could have continued to work out of the clinic attached to the south side of the current hospital as long as the county still owned it.
Trustee Sean McReynolds, a Humboldt dentist, said he, too, “always wanted to keep the campus concept in play,” not only for the convenience of patients but also to recruit prospective physicians.
“I know what you have to do to keep people in the field interested in rural America,” he said.
Jim Bauer, a pharmacist, said he has worked to recruit new pharmacists and physicians to Iola for the past 15 years.
“Of 10 candidates, we’ve had only one success,” he said, referring to Dr. Nich Lohman, a doctor of pharmacy, who with his wife, Dr. Becky Lohman, moved to Iola in 2007. For Becky, the new office built by The Family Physicians, “was a huge draw.”
For those practicing obstetrics, especially, having the hospital in town would make a dramatic difference for the care of their patients, said Spears.
For now, Spears and Becky Lohman are the only two physicians in Iola who deliver babies. This summer, Dr. Eric Wolfe will join The Family Physicians, and also provide obstetrical care.
Being a stone’s throw from the hospital means the physicians can make frequent checkups on their moms in labor, Spears said, who are naturally an “insecure” lot.
“We can give greater security to our patients if they know we’re just a minute away,” he said. The same holds true for patients in intensive care or in the emergency room, he said.
Spears said “building on the periphery of town only leads to the decline of our inner city,” while “revitalizing our core would facilitate other improvements in the area.
“The long-term benefits would outweigh the short-term,” in regards to the ease of purchasing the farmland from Iolan Sally Huskey, who had initially offered 20 acres at the intersection of Oregon Road and U.S. 169.
Spears said the physicians and pharmacists had not previously addressed trustees about the location of the hospital because, (a) “We thought it was a done deal that it would be on East Street;” and (b) “We did not what it to appear that we were in this because the East Street location would benefit us financially.”

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