Larned community reacts with shock,
sadness to closing of hospital
Members of the Larned community reacted with shock and sadness to the June 10 announcement that St. Joseph Memorial Hospital and its long-term care unit would close its doors Sept. 30.
“I think people are kind of going through a grief process,” said Barbara Hammond, a member of the Larned City Council. “There’s a lot of sorrow. We’re just very stunned.”
The announcement was made June 10 by Central Kansas Medical Center (CKMC), which operates St. Joseph Memorial Hospital. CKMC is owned by the Denver-based Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI).
“I am sad for the people who are patients,” said Bishop Ronald M. Gilmore. “I am sad for the residents in long-term care. I am sad for the community.”
Bishop Gilmore was informed of the closure the day before it was announced. After being informed, the bishop and his staff sought clarification from CHI and CKMC regarding their plans for health care, especially emergency care, in Pawnee County.
“I and my staff have been in contact with CHI,” Bishop Gilmore said. “While I have a healthy respect for the process that CHI used to come to the decision, I am disappointed that it appears to be not possible for CHI to gift the Larned Hospital facility with its critical access license to the Pawnee County Community. That was my hope and recommendation. But there appears to be a number of legal, regulatory, ethical and other considerations that CHI sees as making such a move not permitted.”
Bishop Gilmore expressed his hope that if the Larned and Pawnee County community is unable to secure the hospital with its critical care license, then CKMC and the Pawnee County community would be able to work out a plan that could provide a much-enhanced clinic and ample emergency care.
“I continue to hold in my prayer all the players in this sad situation that exemplifies the complexities and challenges of rural health care, and I remain active in seeking to support in ways that I can the best for health care in all parts of our diocese,” Bishop Gilmore said.
According to Sister Diane Traffas, vice chair of the CKMC Board of Directors, the primary reason for closing the hospital is that “we could no longer sustain the financial losses incurred year after year, despite many efforts to mitigate the circumstances.”
Still, the decision was very difficult, Sister Diane said. The board explored a variety of alternatives to closing the hospital.
“Ultimately, after much prayer and discernment, the members voted and there was unanimous support for the closure and the continuation of the clinic,” she said. CKMC is exploring expanding the clinic’s hours and services to accommodate needs.
Meanwhile, the Larned community is not letting their hospital close without exploring every possible alternative. Larned Mayor Robert Pivonka told the Register he would like CHI to “sell us the hospital as is, and transfer to us the ‘rural critical access license.’”
The Critical Access Hospital (CAH) license designation provides higher Medicare and Medicare reimbursement rates to small rural hospitals, according to Mary Beth Herrmann, a member of the Pawnee County Community Health Organization and the administrator of the Pawnee County Health Department. Larned must have the license to operate the hospital.
According to hospital sources, the designation of Critical Access is approved by Federal Medicare and the State Licensure and is “not CKMC’s right to give to another hospital or entity.”
The community has continued to explore other options. Mayor Pivonka met personally with Rep. Jerry Moran in Washington, D.C. soon after the announcement was made.
“I really feel that our best avenue of approach at the present time is probably through our legislature in Washington, D.C. and our representatives to get some pressure on the Kansas Department of Health to keep that license open until we have a chance to do something,” Mayor Pivonka said. “I don’t know what our chances are of that, probably slim and none, but it’s worth a shot.”
Mayor Pivonka, while concerned about the decision, stressed that he didn’t “think anybody on our committee is really upset with the Catholic Church or the Catholic people. That isn’t it. I’ve tried to make people understand this.” His problem, he said, is with CHI and the fact that it was allowed to make this decision.
Sister Diane said she regrets that this has become such a divisive and sensitive issue. She hopes that eventually both communities can come together on ideas of how they can expand clinic services and respond to handling appropriately Emergency/EMS services in the Larned community.
“While this is a different health care model, we still have an opportunity to collaborate,” she said.
It’s understandable why the community feels as if they’re losing a family member. The hospital opened in 1951; all of Mayor Pivonka’s five children were born in the hospital. Herrmann said she has “heard thousands of stories of life giving measures performed right here in our community hospital….”
“Pawnee County Community Health Organization wants to express our thankfulness for the employees at St. Joseph Memorial Hospital who are dedicated to the community and work at the place most consider there home away from home,” she said. “Our community is truly blessed to have them.
“The emergency room and hospital has impacted my life and thousands of other people in Pawnee County and those passing through or visiting who found themselves in need of care,” Herrmann said.
In the press release, Sharon Lind, president CEO of CKMC, said that “We sincerely appreciate the community for their support over the years and acknowledge how devastating this can be to loyal community supporters.”
The town ministerial association will host a candlelight prayer vigil July 12 at 9 p.m. at Moffat Stadium, during which residents will “pray for some resolution to this.”