LMH may have to pick up some patients if Topeka’s St. Francis closes

St. Francis Health Center in Topeka.

? Officials at Lawrence Memorial Hospital are keeping a close eye on what happens to St. Francis Health Center in Topeka.

If the Topeka hospital closes, which its parent company has suggested it will do if it doesn’t find a buyer in the next several weeks , LMH could be forced to absorb some of the patient load.

Currently, officials at Topeka’s other major hospital system, Stormont Vail Health, have said they are working with St. Francis on what they called “transition plans” and have suggested Stormont Vail may try to absorb parts of the St. Francis system.

“We are prepared to step forward to help keep services open and operational at St. Francis,” Stormont Vail’s CEO Randy Peterson said in a news release last week.

Meanwhile LMH officials said they, too, are preparing for changes in the regional health care market, although it’s not yet clear what role LMH may need to play.

“LMH has reached out to Randy Peterson to let him know we are happy to collaborate with the transition in any way we can help,” LMH spokeswoman Janice Early said in an email last week. “It is unknown at this time what that might mean or what impact it might have on LMH.”

St. Francis’ parent company, Denver-based SCL Health, has said it will continue seeking a buyer for St. Francis for at least the next two weeks. But either way, SCL said, it will not continue operating St. Francis beyond this summer.

St. Francis officials have said two of its most essential contracts will run out on June 30, those for emergency room services and cardiology.

Of those two, the loss of a major ER facility in the region could have the most immediate impact on other hospitals in the region.

Stormont Vail also operates a large ER facility that is classified as a Level 2 trauma center, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. But there are questions about whether Stormont Vail currently has the capacity to absorb all of the emergency service currently being performed at St. Francis.

According to Stormont Vail spokeswoman Niki Maloney, that ER has gone on “diversion status” five times in the last two years, meaning it diverts emergency patients to other hospitals, either because its beds are full or for some other reason.

“We are working on a plan to care for patients with emergent and urgent needs during this transition,” Maloney said.

LMH’s emergency department is rated as a Level 4 trauma center, according to KDHE. That means it can provide “advanced trauma life support services” 24 hours a day. But once a patient is stabilized it may have to transfer the patient to a higher level trauma center such as Stormont Vail or the University of Kansas hospital in Kansas City, Kan., for surgery or other forms of critical care.

Meanwhile, Early said that all hospitals in the region are facing the same financial pressures as St. Francis, and she repeated LMH’s long-standing support for expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, an issue that some lawmakers have said they plan to revisit when the Legislature comes back into session May 1.

“Hospitals and health care organizations are facing real challenges and in some cases like St. Francis, real jeopardy,” Early said. “That’s why coverage and policy issues, including Medicaid expansion efforts, matter.”

In March, both chambers of the Legislature passed a Medicaid expansion bill, but Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed it. An attempt to override that veto in the House fell three votes short of the required two-thirds majority.

One of those who opposed Medicaid expansion was Rep. Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, who chairs the House Health and Human Services Committee. He said last week that he has not changed his position, and that the potential closure of St. Francis is more the result of mismanagement than lack of Medicaid expansion.

“The narrative out there is that if we would have had Medicaid expansion then they wouldn’t be in this problem. That’s not true,” Hawkins said. “Medicaid expansion doesn’t stop mismanagement.”