PITTSBURG — Weeks after the sudden closures of three Southeast Kansas medical facilities, former employees are still waiting for their paychecks.
Diane Young, a registered nurse who worked the night shift at Oswego Community Hospital before it — along with Oswego Community Clinic and Chetopa Community Clinic — abruptly shut its doors last month, said Wednesday she has not received a check since February.
Though the hospital and clinics had struggled for years, the closures still came as a surprise.
“I had a lady drive up the next morning,” said Steven Charles, owner of Oswego Drug Store and a longtime supporter of the hospital, in an interview a few days after the closures. “She had her young son, to bring him in for care, and there was nobody there, so she had to take him to Columbus.”
Young said she has managed to find a new job that she will be starting later this month at Mercy Maude Norton Hospital in Columbus, but other former employees have had no such luck. “It’s kind of half and half I think,” she said. Young also said there has been no progress in recovering payments that were supposed to be made to her health insurance and 401(k) plans, but were not.
“I personally contacted my health insurance and Transamerica back in November and found out that they hadn’t been making the payments since September,” Young said, adding that no one had yet been able to access their medical records from the hospital, which was upsetting to some in the community.
The same day the three Southeast Kansas medical facilities announced their closures, Parsons-based Labette Health announced it would provide a temporary clinic in Oswego and “begin the planning stages of a permanent clinic, including x-ray, lab and therapy.”
Kerri Beardmore, marketing director for Labette Health, said Wednesday the company hopes to open its temporary Oswego clinic in the first week of April, and a permanent facility at a later date. “We have hired staff for the Oswego Clinic,” Beardmore said in an email, “whom all came from the Oswego Hospital.”
Since the closures, the management company which had been operating the facilities, EmpowerHMS, has come under increasing scrutiny. In the time since news of the three Southeast Kansas facilities’ closures first broke in mid-February, problems at other Empower hospitals have emerged. I-70 Community Hospital in Sweet Springs, Missouri, closed its doors the day after the three Kansas facilities. Horton Community Hospital in Horton, Kansas, meanwhile, also reportedly faces imminent closure, with utility bills and employees going unpaid.
EmpowerHMS CEO Jorge Perez is also reportedly being sued by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia in connection with an alleged multi-million dollar “fraudulent scheme” involving laboratory billing.
Oswego Drug Store owner Charles said in February that a lack of laboratory supplies were one of the problems at the Oswego facility.
“The chemicals for the lab, I think that was one of the big issues,” Charles said last month. “They were expiring, and they weren’t going to have those so they didn’t feel like the hospital could be functioning safely.”
In that interview, Charles also discussed the impact the closures were already having on the Oswego community.
“It’s a big blow to the community,” he said adding that when he moved to Oswego in 1984, “the people of the community, that was one of their accomplishments that they were very proud of because they had just gathered funds door-to-door to complete the hospital back in ‘81.”
While he was upset by the closures of the local hospital and clinic, Charles also said he was trying to remain optimistic, and Labette Health’s plan to open a temporary clinic gave him some hope.
“Who knows what the future holds?” he said. “We may not be able to provide the same type of healthcare we have, but that doesn’t mean we can’t provide a more modernized form of healthcare. There might be things that we can do at the new facility that we weren’t doing at the other facility.”
The loss of jobs and medical facilities was devastating for the Oswego community, Charles said, but he continued to look for a silver lining.
“Hopefully a door closed and a window opens, and that’s what I’m hoping,” he said. “And that’s what you have to pray for.”