Lawrence Memorial Hospital is facing more challenges now than ever, hospital officials told city commissioners Wednesday, mainly because of increasing health care costs and a nationwide shortage of specialists.
"It's been called a perfect storm," said Gene Meyer, the hospital's chief executive. "There's a real convergence of issues affecting the health care industry right now."
The meeting came just days after the hospital announced it was closing its inpatient psychiatric unit because of the loss of three of the four doctors who referred and treated patients in the program. And commissioners said they were concerned the closure would mean the end of adequate mental health care in the city.
"Does the city or county have a place in this?" Commissioner Mike Rundle asked. "Can we do anything?"
The answer appears to be no.
Meyer said the problem wasn't simply a lack of psychiatrists. Instead, psychiatrists in the community either aren't qualified or willing to perform inpatient care. LMH Chief of Staff Michael Zabel said the hospital had contacted the six or seven private psychiatrists in Lawrence, but all have their own caseloads to worry about.
"They feel they can serve the population better by performing outpatient care," he said.
LMH trustees are optimistic they can eventually reopen the unit, though Zabel said today there "doesn't seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel."
Meyer said LMH was doing better than some hospitals in Topeka and the Kansas City suburbs. There, money-losing hospitals are becoming targets of for-profit health care companies such as Hospital Corporation of America. That company already owns hospitals in Wichita and Kansas City.
"We're doing a lot of things to protect (LMH)," Meyer said. "We need to be a regional specialty center."
He touted the hospital's upgrades in technology and outreach programs across Douglas County, saying the hospital was drawing patients from a wider area than ever before.
The trustees told commissioners the hospital was taking in more money than it was spending, but it would have to aggressively pursue new technology and court patients from a wider area if it was to weather the storm ahead.
"We feel LMH is a community asset that needs to be protected," Meyer said.