Community HealthCare System in St. Marys to close emergency room doors, adjust services

Todd Willert discusses the changes coming to CHCS in St. Marys.
Todd Willert discusses the changes coming to CHCS in St. Marys.(WIBW/Sarah Motter)
Published: Apr. 28, 2021 at 4:18 PM CDT
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ST. MARYS, Kan. (WIBW) - The Community HealthCare System in St. Marys will adjust services in June by shutting down its emergency room and reducing the number of beds in the facility.

Community HealthCare System in St. Marys says it will shut its emergency room doors and eliminate all eight of its hospital beds on June 4, 2021. It said the facility simply does not have enough staff or patient traffic to continue to operate the services. However, the facility will continue to offer other services like physical, occupational and speech therapy, X-rays, laboratory services and home health services. Additionally, it said St. Marys Manor will offer skilled care.

The CHCS Board of Directors voted on Friday, April 23, to make the changes. It is required to give 30 days’ notice to the community and to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. CHCS said it notified the KDHE on Monday, April 26, of the decision and public notices will be published by community newspapers.

According to CEO Todd Willert, while eliminating the services was not a COVID-19 pandemic-related decision, the health crisis certainly had an impact on its staffing issues.

“We have closely monitored utilization of hospital and emergency services and have seen steady declines in the last several years,” said Willert. “We’ve also had difficulties recruiting and retaining hospital staff because of that low utilization.”

Willert said over the last few years CHCS has seen historically low levels of patient traffic and that the low number of patients in the facility has contributed to the staffing issues. He said with such low patient traffic staff are either unwilling to come or unwilling to stay.

Willert also said the facility would have had to make unavoidable investments that it could not afford. The facility’s call light and telemetry systems would have needed substantial capital investment. He said one patient per day would not have been enough to justify the work that needed to be done.

Along with the changes to its services, CHCS said it will also have to eliminate six staff members. It said all affected staff members have been given the chance to apply for other positions within the organization, which include six other clinics, a skilled nursing facility, an assisted living facility and three fitness centers.

CHCS will also offer skilled care at St. Marys Manor, which is attached to the facility and houses 25 residents.

“Caring for our nursing home residents is a primary concern, and we’ve started down the path to obtaining the necessary approvals and certifications to offer a higher level of care to St. Marys Manor residents,” said Laura Flentie, CHCS director of long-term care services. “This will help replace hospital services if residents need skilled care, and we have the staff who are qualified and ready to provide that care.”

Willert said the facility is currently in the licensure process for the Manor.

CHCS said it is licensed for 25 beds, which will now all be located at Onaga Community Hospital, 25 miles northwest of St. Marys. It said the closest emergency services available to St. Marys residents are available 15 minutes away in Wamego and 30 minutes away in either Onaga or Topeka.

However, challenges regarding healthcare in rural areas remain pressing.

“The pandemic exacerbated an already precarious situation in healthcare,” said Willert. “In the past year, we’ve seen drastically reduced revenues from areas we had previously counted on, such as the federal 340B Drug Pricing Program, as well as decreased numbers of wellness visits, cancer screenings, and other healthcare services. The state has also failed to act on Medicaid expansion. Eliminating services is not something we do lightly, but in this case, we felt it the most appropriate action to protect the financial health of our organization and the range of services we offer across a large area of northeast Kansas.”

Willert said in the fall of 2020, drug companies took action to restrict the 340B Drug Pricing Program. He said the actions included only offering certain brands and reducing the number of pharmacies hospitals can use to get the medicine. He said CHCS used to have seven pharmacies in its network, and now can only use one pharmacy.

CHCS said the Kansas Legislature has also failed to pass any Medicaid expansion, and as a result, will miss out on an estimated $516,000 of additional revenue.

While eliminating services was a difficult decision, Willert said it was a decision that had been on the table for a number of years. He wanted to emphasize, however, that CHCS is not leaving the community. He said the facility will continue to offer primary care and services to support that care.

CHCS said it will continue to evaluate the healthcare needs of the St. Marys community.

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