OSWEGO — Area residents were surprised to hear last week that Oswego Community Hospital, Oswego Community Clinic, Chetopa Community Clinic had abruptly closed their doors. For hospital employees, who had not been paid in recent weeks, however, warning signs had become increasingly evident.
Former hospital lab director Jessica Mayfield said employees were last paid Jan. 25, and she doubts they will receive their back pay for time worked since then.
“I have three kids at home and a family that I have to take care of, you know the electric bill is coming in, gas bill, car payments,” Mayfield said. “Can’t pay any of it.”
Diane Young, a registered nurse who worked the night shift at the hospital, said she and other employees stopped showing up to work shortly after she didn’t receive her last paycheck.
“But I did go in and work for free on Tuesday,” she said, “and I did volunteer to work Wednesday night if they needed me.”
Steven Charles, owner of Oswego Drug Store, was involved with the hospital as a pharmacist on and off for more than 30 years since moving to Oswego, and said he saw some warning signs.
“For a number of years, some of the vendors have had trouble getting payments for services rendered,” he said. “People within the hospital had donated some of their own money to keep things going, as little bit as they could, but there comes a limit to how much money you can do.”
According to Charles, the x-ray machine the hospital had been using was badly outdated and basically nonfunctional. “They would have to go to a museum to find parts to repair it,” he said. Charles said keeping the hospital running has “been a struggle for many years.” Things appear to have gotten worse, however, under the management of Kansas City-based EmpowerHMS.
At other Empower-run hospitals, there have been issues with employees and vendors not getting paid, said Mayfield.
“Every month we send in for replenishment for reagents, and the last time we were able to do that was in October,” she said.
Young said even utilities were an issue.
“There’s times when we’ve even been threatened to have the electricity turned off or the water turned off,” said Young.
Some, including Gov. Laura Kelly, have pointed to Medicaid-related problems as a cause for the hospital’s problems. The former employees themselves, however, have mixed views on the issue.
“I don’t think that’s true at all,” said Mayfield, pointing instead to management as the main problem. “It’s them not paying us, period,” she said.
Young took a slightly more moderate, but similar position.
“I’m not saying Medicare or Medicaid didn’t have a low reimbursement, but if you look at all the other [Empower] hospitals, none of them say anything about that,” said Young. “Their problems are lack of funding, management, people not getting paid, bills not getting paid.”
Luckily, others are moving quickly to fill the void left by the closures in Oswego and Chetopa. On Monday, Labette Health, which has already hired some former employees from the closed facilities, and Southeast KansasWorks jointly coordinated a job fair in Oswego attended by several of the laid off employees.
“The bright and shining star is Labette Health,” said Charles, the former hospital pharmacist and Oswego Drug Store owner, adding that Labette Health has helped the Oswego hospital in the past.
Southeast KansasWorks is organizing an additional information session to assist laid off workers from the three area facilities in exploring their options, which is scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 27 at 11:00 a.m. at Christian Church in Oswego.
—Jonathan Riley is a staff writer at The Morning Sun. He can be reached at jriley@morningsun.net