Family medicine

Researches find that the local hospital; stepped through the doors to join a weekly morning coffee organized by Fort Scott’s chamber of commerce. The town manager was there, along with the franchisee of the local McDonald’s, an insurance agency owner and the receptionist from the big auto sales lot. Baker; who grew up on a farm south of town; knew them all.

Morning coffee organize

Still, she paused in the doorway with her chin up to take in the scene. Then; lowering her voice, she admitted: “Nobody talked to me after the announcement.” 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. Reta Baker, president of Mercy Hospital, began as a staff nurse in 1981 and “has been here ever since.” The hospital closed at the end of 2018.(Christopher Smith for KHN).

Leaders and staff members

“Babies are going to be dying,” said longtime resident Darlene Doherty; who was at the coffee. “This is a disaster.” Bourbon County Sheriff Bill Martin stopped before leaving the gathering to say the closure has “a dark side.” And Dusty Drake, the lead minister at Community Christian Church, diplomatically said people have “lots of questions;” adding that members of his congregation will lose their jobs.

There is also the economic question of how the hospital closure will affect the town’s demographic makeup since; as is often the case in rural America; Fort Scott’s hospital is a primary source of well-paying jobs and attracts professionals to the community. The GAO plans to complete a follow-up study later this year on the fallout from rural hospital closures. “We want to know more;” Cosgrove said.

Jobs and attracts professionals

The report was originally requested in 2017 by then-Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and then-Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), and has been picked up by Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.). Here in Fort Scott; the questions are being answered painfully  in real time. At the end of December; Mercy closed Fort Scott’s hospital but decided to keep the building open to lease portions to house an emergency department; outpatient clinic and other services.

“Nobody donated to Mercy just for it to be Mercy’s;” said Bill Brittain, a former city and county commissioner. The point was to have a hospital for Fort Scott. Today Mercy is a major health care conglomerate; with more than 40 acute care and specialty hospitals; as well as 900 physician practices and outpatient facilities. Fort Scott is the second Kansas hospital Mercy has closed.