Mercy Hospital Fort Scott, the only hospital in rural Fort Scott, Kansas, is set to close its doors after 132 years of serving the local community. As the hospital gets ready to close, many residents will now have to look elsewhere when it comes to receiving medical care. But for some of Fort Scott’s 7,800 residents, traveling to another hospital isn’t exactly ideal, especially when they’re battling cancer and other chronic conditions, which make the commute all the more challenging.
As more rural hospitals close their doors all over the country, patients are either traveling long distances to receive care, seeing their care provider less often, or simply refusing to seek out care all together. Learn more about the devastating effects of rural hospital closures and how patients are responding.
Why Mercy Hospital Fort Scott Is Closing
Mercy was known as one of the most modern healthcare facilities in the region after it was redesigned in 2002 as a 69-bed facility. With panoramic views of local forests and lots of space and privacy for patients, many viewed Mercy as a soothing respite from the otherwise unpleasant experience of receiving medical care. But today, these lavish amenities are putting the hospital out of business. With mostly vacant inpatient beds, Mercy Hospital Fort Scotts is citing high operational costs and diminishing revenue.
The U.S. government originally built the facility back in 1842 as more citizens began moving out west. Fort Scott, KS was known as a boom town in the years after the Civil War with over 10,000 residents to its name. The hospital has since evolved with the surrounding community, giving locals access to high-paying jobs and attracting skilled professionals from all over the country.
But the hospital can no longer sustain itself in such a rural environment. Some had hoped the hospital’s Cancer Center would stay open, giving patients access to life-saving treatment, but now it seems what’s often called the “Unit of Hope” is closing its doors as well, forcing patients with cancer to search for new treatment options.
Traveling While Sick: Cancer Patients Make Do
Residents of Fort Scott will now have to travel to either Chanute or Parsons, Kansas to receive care, both which have cancer centers open to patients. Both facilities are an hour or way or more, forcing many patients to get behind the wheel, even if they’re currently battling a chronic condition.
Living with cancer often means taking morphine to curb the painful side-effects of treatment, but patients shouldn’t get behind the wheel when taking morphine. Some patients have stopped taking their medicine just to drive to the nearest hospital. Some patients also get sick after treatment, which means they often need to secure a ride back home once they’re finished with their appointments.
Driving with cancer in the middle of rural Kansas can also be a hazard for some patients in other ways, as well. If they have an accident or their car breaks down, they could be many miles away from the closest town or medical facility. Due to the risk and hassle of driving long distances to receive care, many patients are choosing to forgo care all together, especially if they’re uninsured or their insurance won’t cover the entire cost of their care.
Treating patients with cancer can be a challenge in rural parts of the country. Unlike other types of healthcare centers, cancer treatment means having at least one specialist on staff and the purchase and storage of often expensive oncology drugs. If the community doesn’t have enough cancer patients to make use of these services, sustaining a cancer center in the community isn’t always realistic.
According to the CDC, those living in rural America are more likely to die from cancer than those living in urban areas. Rural cancer patients also spend 66% more time traveling than patients that live in urban areas. Fewer cancer specialists tend to live in rural areas, leaving cancer patients with few options in terms of where to receive care.
When a Hospital Closes, So Does the Community
When a hospital like Mercy closes, it affects the community in more ways than one. Many homes have already been put on the market since Mercy first announced it was closing its doors. Employers also like keeping their businesses close to hospitals so their staff doesn’t have to go out of their way to receive care. Many of those that still live in Fort Scott worked or volunteered for the hospital for decades, and will soon be left without work and a place to visit family and friends.
Over 100 hospitals in rural areas have closed since 2010, depriving thousands of residents access to medical care. New advances in telehealth may help curb some of these issues, but patients still need access to in-person medical services, especially if they’re older or dealing with a chronic condition.
Even if Mercy can’t sustain its high operating expenses, the residents of Fort Scott still need access to medical care. As hospitals close their doors, health officials need to come up with a replacement, such as an urgent care or community health center.
Here at Scrubs Mag, we believe everyone should have access to medical care, regardless of their geographic location.