Independence, Kansas, made national news when Mercy Hospital closed in October 2015, following the passage of the ACA and the state of Kansas’ decision not to expand KanCare coverage.
But the story has continued, bit by bit.
“The rest of the story is of a community that donates $1.1 million of its own money and comes together to take 10 acres and build a $7.6 million facility for the future,” says Brian Williams, CEO of Labette County Medical Center, dba Labette Health.
Williams began his role with Labette Health, which has locations in Altamont, Cherryvale, Erie, Independence, Parsons and St. Paul, in the same season as Mercy Health System was shutting down its Independence location. In his new role, he quickly initiated conversations about Independence’s healthcare needs with State Rep. Jim Kelly, R-Independence, Mayor Fred Meier, and City Manager Micky Webb.
“They said, ‘Our first priority would be to have an emergency room (ER), and our second priority would be to have some hospital observation beds. Third would be operating rooms,’ ” Williams says.
An artist’s rendering depicts the eventual look of the Independence Healthcare Center, which will include an emergency room and space for clinics.
He says operating rooms are expensive to build and staff, but he began looking into the other options in earnest.
The number crunching began, utilizing Mercy’s historical demographics and data and information about critical access hospitals in much smaller communities, with the conclusion that Labette Health could help.
“I’m fairly sure an emergency room can be supported with a population of 10,000,” Williams says.
The organization set a goal to raise $1.6 million locally toward the $7.6 million needed to build a 17,500-square-foot facility.
“To date, we have cash contributions and pledges of about $1.1 million,” Williams says, adding he frequently gets checks of $100 or $200 from community members on fixed incomes, and the small donations — along with the hope and belief behind them — add up.
“I think we’ll be very close to reaching our goal by the time the facility opens,” he says.
Construction is moving along at the facility’s Independence Healthcare Center location at 510 N. Peter Pan Road, and its opening is currently scheduled for this summer.
Construction is moving quickly on Labette Health’s new Independence Healthcare Center. The facility is scheduled to open this summer.
Approximately half of the brand-new space will be dedicated to an emergency room with one trauma bay, three additional exam rooms and three observation beds. The ER will also provide advanced imaging via a CT scanner, digital X-ray, a lab and a small infusion area.
Additionally, the building will provide two clinic spaces with 16 exam rooms.
While the first $1.1 million has been raised locally, the remaining $6 million needed for the project has been secured through USDA’s Community Facilities Program, and Williams credits loan specialist Mike Billings and Community Programs Director Shawn Hastings with being “wonderful to work with.”
“There is a place for rural medicine,” Williams says. “Rural agriculture built this country. Really, to me, we’re taking a lot of risks to preserve the quality of life built up over generations in Kansas.”
He says he believes the locally owned healthcare model embodied by Labette Health is a good fit for Independence’s rural healthcare needs.
“I don’t think people thought anybody would take a risk on Independence, Kansas, but we think you guys are worth fighting for,” he says. “You’re our neighbors, and I hope you’d fight for us.”