Archive for Thursday, May 29, 2003

Overbrook residents fight to save clinic

May 29, 2003


Residents of this community are offering their own version of intensive care to save their town's only medical clinic.

A standing-room-only crowd of nearly 50 people Wednesday night jammed into Overbrook City Hall to show support for Topeka-based Kansas Medical Clinic. Administrators recently announced the financially strapped clinic would shut down July 31.

"If they lose this clinic, this town will dry up," said Peggy Phelps, who has lived in this town of about 1,000 people for nine years.

In the past week, Beth Pankratz and Joyce Metzger have been rallying support for the clinic and searching for ways to help it stay afloat. Fund-raisers are among the ideas being considered.

"We feel there is too much to lose, and if we don't try, we'll never know," Pankratz said of the clinic, which has been in operation for three years. "We're hoping that this initial effort will buy us some time."

Increasing costs and declining patient volumes are combining to force cutbacks and closings at rural clinics and hospitals across Kansas. Such cutbacks already have been seen in Halstead, Andover, Augusta and elsewhere.

While the same market forces are hurting urban hospitals, the effect tends to be more dramatic in rural areas, where the closing of a hospital can force residents to drive long distances for medical care and cause economic loss to communities.

In Overbrook, City Council members at the meeting expressed support for the effort to save the clinic.

"If we get enough feedback, the city will do what it can," said Councilman Ira Allen, adding that he didn't know what the city could do right now to save the clinic's operation.

Pankratz, Metzger and others are forming a steering committee to study the problem and come up with a long-term proposal to financially assist the clinic.

They hope to have several representatives from area businesses, local government and others in the community on the committee in time for a meeting to take place sometime next week, they said.

The clinic is open Monday through Friday, and a supervising physician is present one day a week. The clinic has a physician's assistant and nurse who doubles as an office administrator there every day.

The clinic has been averaging 12 patients a day but needs at least 18 patients a day to break even financially, said Elisa Drake, the physician's assistant, and Sheila Musil, the nurse. They said administrators of Kansas Medical Clinic were surprised by the recent outpouring of support.

"I think they were touched by it," Drake said. "They're glad the community realizes what they have done. They've had a (financial) loss for three years."

In the early 1950s, Dr. James L. Ruble opened Overbrook's first medical clinic. He retired after about 40 years. In the 1990s, two other medical clinic providers tried to operate, but both failed. Kansas Medical Clinic took over in 2000.

Without the clinic, residents will have to seek medical care from physicians elsewhere. That causes particular hardship for the elderly and others who can't drive, the disabled and low-income families, Pankratz said.

"The people it will hurt the most are the ones who can do the least about it," she said.

Lawmakers are trying to help rural hospitals with more Medicare funding and programs that aim to recruit doctors to rural areas.

The U.S. Senate voted earlier this month to increase Medicare payments to doctors and hospitals in rural areas by $25 billion during the next decade. Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas have proposed similar bills.

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