Purchase photos

Community optimistic as officials hammer out deal for Larned facility

1/5/2010

By KATHY HANKS

Special to The Hays Daily News

LARNED -- Beth Schraeder has fond memories of St. Joseph Memorial Hospital, where she gave birth to her second child in 1951.

"It was a fantastic hospital at the time," Larned resident Schraeder said. "It was brand new."

It had opened in April 1951, and her child was born in October. She went on to have her third child there also. As her children grew, they had tonsillectomies at the hospital, and she had a hysterectomy and recalled "excellent care."

She admits to feeling angry when she first heard in June that the hospital's parent, Central Kansas Medical Center, was closing the only hospital in Pawnee County by Sept. 30. What made her the angriest, she said, was the critical access designation would have been lost if the hospital locked the doors without transferring the designation. The designation allows the hospital to collect Medicaid reimbursements.

But a community effort, much like the drive to build the original hospital, created the Pawnee County Community Health Organization, a citizen group working to save the hospital. This led to a civil suit filed in late August by Attorney General Steve Six naming PCCHO as the plaintiffs and which brought about the December agreement that will transfer ownership of St. Joseph Memorial Hospital to a party designated by the city of Larned and Pawnee County.

On Monday, there were three patients at the hospital, which continues to offer emergency room, in-patient care, lab work, pastoral care, X-ray, respiratory therapy and social services, according to Jan Hipp an administrator at St. Joseph.

Now all parties involved are working with a March 1 deadline for the transfer of the hospital and clinic facilities from CKMC and Catholic Health Initiatives, the Denver-based chain that is the owner.

Meanwhile the Pawnee County Commission met Monday to work on a proposed community infrastructure, which would make that possible on or before March 1.

"The commissioners continue to work with the city government, the Pawnee County Community Health Organization and Hays Medical Center, with the goal of acquiring the hospital, and new medical clinic building from Central Kansas Medical Center and Catholic Health Initiatives," said Pawnee County Attorney John Settle in a press release issued after an executive session. "Hays Medical Center is expected to enter into an agreement with Pawnee County to provide management and operation of the facilities."

All involved with the settlement have signed a confidentiality form that keeps them from disclosing the details of the infrastructure plan.

Mary Beth Herrmann, a PCCHO board member and Pawnee County Health Department administrator, is very cautious about breeching that agreement. However, in general she said the health care future of her community looks better than it did seven months ago when CKMC announced it would close St. Joseph by Sept. 30, citing financial losses the past few years.

Like Schraeder, and the majority of the community, Herrmann was sick about the news. She knew from experience it takes several components, including doctors, a pharmacy and a hospital, to have an effective health care system. Losing one of those components weakens the entire system in the community.

"We're going to have an opportunity for a strong health care system with more local control," Herrmann said.

She feels a sense of satisfaction that they are securing not only the present but also the future of health care for the community.