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Brownback: 'No reason' St. Francis hospital should close
Saying there is at least one, and possibly more companies negotiating to buy the troubled St. Francis Health Center in Topeka, Gov. Sam Brownback said Wednesday there is "no reason" that hospital should close later this year.
"We now have a buyer — at least one, we think there may be more options come forward as well, so there really should be no reason that St. Francis closes," Brownback said. "We have a legitimate buyer. It's a known entity that is financially capable of doing this. That may not be the one that (its parent company SCL Health) picks, but we have one, so there really should be no reason for St. Francis to close."
He was referring to California-based Prime Healthcare Foundation, which announced over the weekend that it was interested in acquiring St. Francis, although no agreement has been reached. The company owns and operates 14 community-based nonprofit hospitals around the country.
St. Francis is a 378-bed hospital that employs roughly 1,600 people in Topeka. Its owners have been searching for a buyer since last summer, and last week they said regardless of whether they find one, they will not continue operating the hospital beyond this summer.
SCL Health said it would wait two weeks, until May 2, to line up a buyer before it would announce plans for a shutdown.
Closure of the hospital would not only have a big impact on the local Topeka economy and the regional health care market, but it would also have political implications in the debate at the Kansas Legislature over Medicaid expansion. SCL Health officials have cited the state's refusal to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act as one of the factors contributing to the hospital's financial problems.
In March, Brownback vetoed a bill that would have expanded the Kansas Medicaid program, known as KanCare, to extend coverage to an estimated 155,000 additional people. An effort to override that veto narrowly failed in the House on April 3.
Brownback said Wednesday that he had met recently with officials from Prime Healthcare, the only company that has publicly expressed an interest in acquiring St. Francis. But he said other potential buyers have asked for more information about the hospital as they weigh whether to make a proposal.
"I talked with (SCL Health CEO) Mike Slubowski twice this week about this, about getting offers. They're the ones that have to sort through them," Brownback said. But at this point in time, we have a buyer. There are negotiations going on with them and others, so I don't know who they're going to pick, but there really should be no reason that St. Francis closes."