By: Jennifer Bacani McKenney, MD, Bacani/McKenney Clinic, Fredonia, Kansas
Four weeks after the closing of Mercy Hospital in Independence, Kansas, the effects are being felt beyond the healthcare of a single town. The loss of Mercy Hospital is a devastating blow to the nearly 10,000 people of Independence, local businesses, and surrounding small hospitals, such as my own.
I am a family physician in Fredonia, Kansas, a town of 2,500 people thirty miles from Independence with a 25-bed critical access hospital. We have five primary care physicians in Fredonia, and we have all been taking patients from Independence in our already full clinics. Not only has Independence lost an entire hospital, but they have lost family physicians, pediatricians, obstetricians, surgeons, as well as their nursing teams. There are now urgent care facilities that have been set up in Independence that will attempt to fill this void but will not replace the primary care services this community once had.
Patients who can afford to drive to surrounding cities to see a physician have done so. Many even drive to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, taking their medical care out of state. Those who are without health insurance or a means to travel to other cities then rely on the emergency rooms in neighboring cities for their primary source of healthcare, which is a very inefficient and expensive way to access healthcare. Small, rural hospitals such as ours in Fredonia are having to absorb the costs of ambulance rides and emergency room visits of people without healthcare coverage.
Additionally, businesses in Independence will likely suffer from the closure of the local hospital. Businesses may have to consider relocating because they won’t have the necessary healthcare for their employees in Independence.
The loss of Mercy Hospital has and will continue to have far-reaching effects. Contrary to the name of the community – Independence – local citizens are now largely dependent on healthcare systems outside of their community. Expansion of our KanCare system is one way the hospital’s closure might have been avoided. Let’s not wait for more hospitals to close and more communities to feel these effects. Let’s urge legislators to recognize that future hospital closures could be avoided by expansion of KanCare to extend coverage and insure local healthcare, providing better health and more independence for all.
Submitted by: Maria Spexarth, Director of Communications, Kansas Academy of Family Physicians