First step to saving rural hospitals begins on Election Day

This is what we know about healthcare: It’s making us sick — at least figuratively.

News that Mercy Hospital in Fort Scott will be shuttered at year’s end is sending shockwaves through neighboring communities.

Is Allen County Regional in danger? If so, what can be done?

First off, in less than five weeks are the midterm elections.

Right then and there vote for a governor who supports expanding Medicaid, the state/federal program that provides health insurance for the poor. If expanded, it would cover an additional 152,000 Kansans.

One reason rural hospitals, especially, are suffering is because they cannot get reimbursed for the care they give to the poor, which then must be written off as an unpaid expense, a debt.

Allen County’s poverty is disproportionately high — 15.4 percent, compared to the state average of 11.9 percent. About 20 percent of our children live in poverty, against a state average of 14 percent.

For each year that Medicaid expansion has lain by the wayside, Allen County Regional Hospital has had to write off more than $1 million in expenses for the uncompensated care it gives to the poor. That is a losing game plan.

In Fort Scott, hospital officials said Medicaid expansion would have positively affected about 6 percent of its patients.

Typically, these are low-wage workers who cannot afford to buy health insurance on the open market, but do not qualify for Medicaid because they earn too much. In Kansas, a family of three cannot live on more than $8,000 a year and qualify for its benefits.     

Candidates supporting Medicaid expansion are Democrat Laura Kelly and Independent Greg Orman. Kris Kobach, Republican, is against it.

In 2017, Kansas legislators approved Medicaid expansion, only to have then-governor Sam Brownback veto it.

So yes, it matters who represents us in Topeka.

SECOND, use your local hospital.

A recent hospital report showed that of its patients, only 29 percent hail from Allen County. That could be better.

Allen County Regional is one of Iola’s biggest industries at 165 employees, and undoubtedly the best-paying gig in town. Physicians, nurses, anesthetists and therapists don’t come cheap. These are employees who buy homes, have discretionary spending, and typically get involved in our schools, social clubs and churches.

Losing desirable employees such as these would be a real stomach-punch.

Of course it’s a two-way street. Not even a local hospital can take its neighbors for granted.

Like any business, hospitals must work for their clients and dovetail services that suit changing needs and tastes.

For hospitals, that means going from an in-patient model to expanding their outpatient services such as physical and occupational therapy and wound care. The hospital’s hospice and home health care services have been second to none, and need to be kept a priority.

And while not wanting to rub salt into Fort Scott’s wounds, Allen County’s hospital and college should waste no time in contacting the nursing program at Fort Scott Community College to see if they can somehow partner with it.

Strategic partnerships are integral to bringing people and services our way.

NOW IN THE PROCESS of reviewing hospital management contracts, board members have also reopened the door to a possible lease arrangement.

At first glance, losing “control” of our bottom line seemed undesirable.

After all, that was one of the reasons we got out from Hospital Corporation of America’s lease in 2013, when they gave us a thumbs down when asked if they would contribute to building a new hospital.

But now, given the uncertain horizon of healthcare, handing off that responsibility to a big-city partner could be the responsible thing to do.

The other perk from such an arrangement would be a pipeline of specialists coming our way, which would help keep area patients local.

One thing with healthcare. The minute you think you have a diagnosis, another symptom pops up.
— Susan Lynn


The Iola Register

302 South Washington
Iola, KS 66749
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