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Archive for Saturday, August 18, 2001

Local clinic confronting closure

Legal battles hurt business, provider says

August 18, 2001

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A Lawrence abortion provider, one of the state's few, says money trouble might shut down her Eighth Street clinic regardless how the state Board of Healing Arts rules in her case today.

"Right now, we're close to $40,000 in debt," said Dr. Kristin Neuhaus. "We've already had to lay off several people. I just can't afford to run it as a charity. We're trying to put a plug in a pretty big hole."

Neuhaus said the clinic had just begun showing profit when state regulators temporarily shut it down last year as they investigated her office's record keeping and administration of sedatives.

Her problems with regulators later included an allegation she completed an abortion on a patient who had withdrawn consent because she was sedated with Diazepan instead of a local anesthetic.

June 15, a three-person subpanel of the board unanimously approved a settlement that included no punishment of the doctor. A board attorney said she believed patients in Neuhaus' care were safe. The settlement would require Neuhaus to comply with state laws, keep proper medical records and use a more detailed consent form.

Neuhaus attorneys say she is complying with those terms. The settlement must be agreed to by a majority of the full regulatory board, which meets 9 a.m. today in Topeka to decide the matter.

But Neuhaus said the clinic's finances still haven't recovered from the temporary closure and might go belly up, regardless how the full board rules.

Neuhaus said she has had to raise the price for abortions to $450 and probably will increase the fee to $500 because of the clinic's cash crunch. The procedure is available in Kansas City for $300, she said. The higher prices make her uncompetitive.

Some financial relief has come from providing RU-486 treatments. Neuhaus said patients like the drug because it is effective and less invasive than surgery.

"We're one of the few RU providers, and people are willing to travel to use that," she said. "That's a little niche we can fill. We've always been a more low-key, private option for people ... that's one positive turn of events."

Neuhaus said people assume the abortion business is highly profitable. But she said that isn't the case at small clinics such as hers. Unlike most surgeries, Neuhaus said, abortions generally aren't paid for by insurance companies. So doctors can't charge rates higher than patients can afford from their own pockets.

Neuhaus said she's been providing abortions since 1993 and is growing weary of the pressures, financial and otherwise, that accompany the controversial work.

"I just don't feel like being a martyr to the whole thing," she said.

She said she was heartened when a Lawrence couple read of her problems and sent a $50 check for her legal defense fund.

The fund, established at the Free State Credit Union by the husband of a Neuhaus employee, hasn't attracted notice or significant financial help, she said.

"I'm totally appalled that we have to ask for any kind of help like that," Neuhaus said, "but we have $5,000 in outstanding legal expenses. So, anything contributed ... goes straight to the attorneys"

Neuhaus said she isn't sure how much longer she can stay in business.

"We don't have immediate plans to close the doors at this point," she said. "We're just hoping we'll recover. But the trend hasn't made that seem real feasible. There's still a possibility that things could improve. But with this constantly spiraling price we have to charge, we won't be able to have anyone who wants to come."

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