De Soto Family Practice to close at year’s end
Community leaders looking for ways to keep local health care opportunities available
Lori Murdock had one of her busiest days Monday as a parade of patients entered her pharmacy from De Soto Family Practice next door, seeking to fill prescriptions for antibiotics and cough syrup to combat the ravages of the flu bug sweeping the community.
It was learned last week the Lexington Avenue medical clinic's busy doors may soon close. De Soto Family Practice's five staff members received termination notices from its current owner, Hospital Corporation of America.
The clinic's closing would be a blow to her Cedar Creek Pharmacy, Murdock said, but it would represent an even greater loss to the community.
"I'll continue to stay open and rent from them," she said. "The closing of the clinic will affect us. I'll lose all the walk-in business from the clinic.
"It's going to be a difficult situation for the patients who will have to leave town to see a doctor."
The notification the center's staff received stated the clinic would close at the end of December. Joan Barenklau, the clinic's office coordinator, said the closure appeared driven by the difficulty in finding a replacement for Dr. Dean Smith, who started at the clinic last March and had been commuting from California since his wife and family relocated there earlier this year.
"Right now if you called for an appointment, we couldn't get you in for two days," Barenklau said. "It's just the lack of a physician that they're closing it."
HCA bought the local clinic in February as part of its purchase of metropolitan area Health Midwest assets. HCA owns more than 300 hospitals in the United States and is the nation's leading health service provider.
Rob Dyer, vice president of marketing and communications for HCA's Midwest division, said HCA hadn't given up on the De Soto clinic or its 3,000 patients.
"We've been actively recruiting for that market for the past eight months," he said. "We will continue to do so."
The company's recruitment service was constantly attempting to sign up physicians and physician groups, he said. There are doctors interested in smaller communities who might have an interest in the De Soto position, he said.
Suspecting that the closure might be coming, Darrel Zimmerman approached De Soto Multi-Service Center Coordinator Jodi Hitchcock about his concerns. The two then put together an ad hoc committee to address the issue that included De Soto Mayor Dave Anderson, City Administrator Greg Johnson, City Attorney Patrick Reavey, Smith, De Soto Chamber of Commerce Director Sara Ritter, Hitchcock, the clinic's physician assistant James Boyes, and Murdock.
The committee met Nov. 20, before staff was informed of the closing. Anderson said that notification made finding a solution more critical.
Anderson said an HCA representative hadn't returned his phone call as of Tuesday. The mayor said he hoped to work with the company to recruit a new physician and a way to keep the clinic open until a doctor was found.
All that was needed to keep the clinic open was for one of the company's physicians to sign off on Boyes' paperwork, Anderson said. That would require a doctor to visit the clinic half of a day once a week or so, or transporting the paperwork to the physician, he said.
HCA's objection seemed to be the cumbersome process of transporting the voluminous documents to a participating doctor, Anderson said.
"That indicates there's a pretty healthy practice out here," the mayor said.
Should HCA have no interest in continuing in De Soto, Anderson he would ask that the company cooperate in the community's effort to find another physician or healthcare service provider.
Anderson said he was prepared to enlist state legislators and the state's congressional delegation in the effort to save the clinic.
An added difficulty was HCA's ownership of De Soto Medical Plaza, Anderson said. Committee members were exploring other locations, and the city attorney was investigating the city's possible purchase of the building, Anderson said.
"This is a business thing, but it's of vital interest to the community," the mayor said. "That's why we're involved. There are just too many people who rely on that clinic who can't drive to another site.
"With the bleeding away of the pharmacy business, we could lose two critical businesses."
Hitchcock said the clinic's closing would have consequences for the entire community but would present special difficulties for the elderly (the clinic accepted Medicare patients), low-income residents and others without access to transportation.
"They don't understand the access we're losing," she said. "For a 28-year-old who has good health insurance and a good car, it's no big thing. But any of our more disenfranchised citizens don't have the luxury of having someone to drive them into the city for an appointment."
Local access was particularly important for preventative medicine, Hitchcock said. Children getting sick at school could be referred for treatment and people were more likely to make an appointment at a local clinic, she said.
The clinic's loss would represent a blow to the city's economic development efforts, Ritter said.
"It's a huge impact for our community now, but also one of the criteria those considering locating to the community look at," she said. "Congressman Dennis Moore will be at our December meeting. I expect it to come up."