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'We gotta have an ER': 1/4-cent sales tax will help re-establish Bourbon County's Emergency Department

Fort Scott, Kansas
Posted at 7:28 PM, May 21, 2024

FORT SCOTT, Kan. — Hundreds of rural hospitals across the country are at an immediate risk of closing, including 26 hospitals in Kansas, according to the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform.

The leading cause are often financial troubles, which some officials and residents in Bourbon County believe was the reason for Ascension Via Christi shutting down their emergency department in December.

Craig Campbell, a resident in Fort Scott, only had a mile drive to get to the emergency department.

Now, he has to drive at least 20 miles to get to an emergency room in Iola, Pittsburg or Nevada, Missouri.

"When Ascension did leave in December, it hit everyone pretty hard," Campbell said. "The anxiety that a lot of senior citizens feel living in a town without an ER."

Bourbon County has been through this before with Mercy's departure in 2018.

Campbell is a part of a group that pushed for a recently passed 1/4-cent sales tax to re-establish an emergency department.

The retail sales tax will take effect on Oct. 1 and last five years unless residents vote again to extend it.

The funds will be used to establish and operate an emergency department and any remaining funds will be used for EMS and/or a property tax reduction.

"In this area, to vote a tax on yourself like that at that kind of range of three to one or more is a real statement that citizens of Fort Scott want this, and it's worthy of the extra money and extra taxes," Campbell said.

More than 76% of voters approved the tax.

However, there are some other layers the county still has to sort out. They need to get a new provider on board.

The county is also waiting for Congress to approve the Rural Emergency Hospital Adjustment Act, which would allow "previously closed rural hospitals to potentially re-open and apply for the Rural Emergency Hospital designation".

Fort Scott Commissioner Matthew Wells said they're dealing with a federal licensing issue.

Without a Rural Emergency Hospital designation, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) currently have requirements that make it a complicated process to re-open a critical access hospital in a pre-existing facility.

Hospitals in areas like Bourbon County have a lot of patients using medicaid and medicare, according to the commissioner.

A CMS license would ensure a hospital could receive those federal funds from patients, but without it, a hospital could incur a significant financial loss.

Wells confirmed that two providers expressed interest in acquiring the former Ascension Via Christi Emergency Department.

The county might release more information on their plans in the coming months.