FORT SCOTT — Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas announced its plans to acquire Mercy Clinics after Mercy Hospital Fort Scott announced its closing at the end of the year.

On Wednesday, in a release from CHC/SEK, it was announced the organization will assume ownership of the Mercy clinics in Fort Scott, Pleasanton and Arma beginning January 1, 2019.

CHC/SEK CEO Krista Postai said in a release that this past summer CHC/SEK and Mercy hospital entered discussions about ways to “preserve the resources they had built in Bourbon and Linn counties.”

“As an organization that had grown out of a faith-based health system, CHC/SEK shared their values and their commitment to providing quality, affordable care,” Postai said in the release. “We both agreed it was the right thing to do.

“They are doing whatever they can to make this transition seamless.”

According to a release from Mercy, CHC/SEK will maintain primary care services in Fort Scott and nearby communities in which there are Mercy Clinic locations. These locations include: The Mercy Family Medicine in Arma, Mercy Convenient Care in Fort Scott and Mercy Family Medicine - Linn County in Pleasanton. There will be no effect on any other Mercy locations.
The hospital will close by December 31, including all inpatient services, the emergency department and ambulatory surgery.
“Mercy first announced the need to explore options for future sustainability in 2014, citing trends that included patients leaving the area to seek health care services in larger communities and declining reimbursement, especially from government payers which make up the largest source of revenue,” the release from Mercy said.
After the announcement, Mercy had an 18-month discernment process “which ended in 2015 with the understanding that should these trends continue, Mercy would need to revisit plans for the future,” the release from Mercy said.  
“That time came earlier this year, and a new process of evaluating solutions was undertaken,” Hospital President Reta Baker said in the release. “Unfortunately, the healthcare environment in Fort Scott has not improved, and in fact we’ve encountered the additional challenge of successfully recruiting and retaining physicians in the community.”

Mercy Hospital Fort Scott will close by the end of the year because of declining patient numbers and shrinking reimbursement, a release said.

“Mercy Hospital has been privileged to serve Fort Scott since 1886,” Baker said in the release. “Like many rural hospitals across the country, we have struggled to remain viable as community needs have changed.

“We considered — and exhausted — every possibility for keeping our doors open, and ultimately we had to acknowledge that it’s a different era for hospital care in Fort Scott.

“There are many options in nearby communities for patients seeking hospital care, and there are many challenges we didn’t have in years past.

“Our hearts are heavy, but it’s the decision we know has to be made.”

Postai said in a release that she was aware of the efforts to prevent the closure.

“Everyone recognizes the closure of Mercy Hospital in Fort Scott is a tremendous loss to the community and the state,” she said in a release. “Healthcare has undergone tremendous change over the last decade and sustainability is becoming a challenge for rural hospitals everywhere.”

According to the release from CHC/SEK, Southeast Kansas is vulnerable with a median income 25 percent below the state average, declining population and a much higher rate of chronic disease.
“The traditional model of healthcare is disappearing and with it the hometown hospital,” Postai said.

CHC/SEK — with 12 clinics in five counties — has provided service to more than 43,000 people last year, regardless of their financial status, Postai said in the release.
“Our purpose is to be where we are needed and ensure our care is high quality and affordable,” she said, adding that CHC/SEK was recognized in 2017 as a National Quality Leader and also achieved the highest level of certification as a Patient-Centered Medical Home.

According to the release, CHC/SEK hope to retain the medical staff affected by the closure and that CHC/SEK staff plan to devote time to talk with people interested in a position for the next 30 days.

“We will be meeting with everyone as soon as we possibly can aware that each member of the Mercy staff will need to make some decisions quickly,” she said.

CHC/SEK expects to employ about 60 to 70 of the Mercy staff. Currently, CHC/SEK employs about 340 staff including about 100 medical, dental and behavioral health providers and according to the release from CHC/SEK, the organization’s annual budget is more than $23 million; about 25 percent of that comes from federal and state funding with the balance from service care delivery.
“We expect to have all sites transitioned by February 1, 2019,” Postai said.

The four clinics will be phased over a 60-day period to minimize service disruption and hours and days of clinic operations are expected to remain the same. In addition, CHC/SEK will also continue to operate the pharmacy located within the hospital itself and patients should see a reduction in the cost of their prescriptions, the release said.

“... as a community health center — we are eligible for some special benefits,” Postai said in the release. “We are able to buy drugs at the same price that the Veteran’s Administration pays meaning that we can ensure our patients – especially those on fixed incomes – will be able to afford their prescriptions.”
“Those covered by Medicare may qualify for a discount on their co-pay and, by regulation, their deductible is waived,” she said, adding “As the region’s only Medicare Benefits Enrollment Center, we can assist our older population in identifying all the resources for which they may be eligible.”

Many CHC/SEK’s clinics also offer dental and behavioral health services. Postai said in the release that once they are fully transitioned they will begin to identify other needs and bring in additional resources.

“We really believe in an integrated model of care realizing that those with chronic disease often fight depression and good oral health can impact overall wellbeing,” she said in the release. “It makes a lot of sense to create a one-stop approach and that’s something we can bring to the community.”

“We accept all private insurance, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, so our patients are representative of the community as a whole.”

Financial assistance is also offered to people on reduced incomes.
“Our mission is to ensure everyone has access to primary care so no one is turned away,” Postai said in the release. “Our vision is ‘Healthcare The Way It Should Be’ which means person-focused, personalized and compassionate.”
According to the release from Mercy, Mercy will undertake the required regulatory and legal notices and procedures, including notifying state and federal agencies and payers.
The hospital is developing plans to support the hospital’s 307 employees through the closure process “and all will be treated with compassion and respect,” the release said. “There may be the possibility for some co-workers to transfer to other Mercy facilities.”
“Having closed our hospital in Independence, Kansas, in 2015, we know how difficult this news is to hear – not only for our Fort Scott co-workers and the community, but for everyone across Mercy. Our prayers are with everyone impacted by this decision,” Mercy President and chief Executive Officer Lynn Britton said in the release. “We also know that the Sisters who served before us had to make similar decisions in light of changing community needs, and we draw strength from their courage.”

Postai said in a release she is appreciative for everything Mercy is doing to help make the transition as seamless as possible.

“Without their support, this undertaking would have not been possible,” she said in the release. “Much work lies ahead but we know everyone wants to preserve as many of the health resources as possible in these communities.

“We are honored to be asked and we are committed to making it happen.”

— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at spotter@morningsun.net or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.