Archive for Thursday, December 18, 2003

Clinic draws interest as closing date nears

Current health provider vows to cooperate with city

December 18, 2003

Although Hospital Corporation of America is no longer interested in De Soto, those attempting to maintain local health-care access expressed confidence another provider can be found for the community.

HCA officials informed the staff of De Soto Family Practice in late November that the clinic would close at the end of the year. An HCA spokesman told The Explorer the decision was made because of the difficulty in recruiting a physician to replace Dr. Dean Smith.

However, Mayor Dave Anderson said he learned from Ken Washington, an HCA vice president responsible for recruitment, that De Soto no longer fit in HCA's business plan.

"If that's their decision, that's fine," Anderson said. "I told him they need to stand aside and let us find someone else."

There were other options because of the publicity associated with the clinic's closing. De Soto Multi-Service Center Coordinator Jodi Hitchcock, part of an eight-person task force working to maintain local health-care access, said seven doctors and two health-care providers expressed interest in locating in De Soto after news accounts of the clinic's closing appeared on a metropolitan area TV station.

With knowledge of HCA's plan to leave De Soto, the task force of Anderson, Hitchcock, Darrel Zimmerman, pharmacist Lori Murdock, De Soto City Administrator Greg Johnson, City Attorney Patrick Reavey, Hillside Village owner Bob Haynes and De Soto Chamber of Commerce Director Sara Ritter had concentrated on finding another provider for the clinic. Hitchcock and Ritter were asked to recruit potential providers.

Anderson said Washington assured him HCA would cooperate. The company was willing to sell the practice, which includes equipment and records, and lease the clinic to another health-care provider, Anderson was told.

The two interested providers indicated an interest in following up on that information, Anderson said. He asked them to inform him if negotiations with HCA ran into difficulties, the mayor said.

The two groups expressing interest appear to be the Olathe Medical Center and Mid America Physicians Chartered.

Kathleen McInnis, practice administrator for Mid America Physicians, said she met with the task force last week and was following up with contact with HCA. The doctors' group already had a presence in the immediate area, having recently moved from Bonner Springs to west Shawnee, she said.

"It (De Soto) looks like a nice community and a nice clinic," she said. "It is a market that's attractive to us."

But McInnis cautioned that the exploration process was in its preliminary stage and it was too early to predict whether anything would develop.

Any agreement negotiated would have to be approved by the group's doctors, McInnis said. The community's interest as expressed in the creation of the task force was a positive, she said.

The response to news of the clinic's closing gave Hitchcock and Ritter some hope that a new provider could be in place at the start of the year. Anderson, however, said that timetable might be too optimistic with negotiations taking place on short notice during the holidays.

"It would have been nice if we were given more notice," he said. "We're facing a behemoth. If it's reopened in four to six weeks, we ought to feel lucky. It looks good that everybody is talking."

Enough progress was being made that the clinic's patients "should try not to panic" when they received letters from HCA informing them of the clinic's closing, Hitchcock said.

"We are trying to make sure we can make a smooth transition here without a large disruption of service," she said. "We are working on this situation, and we're very, very positive we will have a continuation of health care in town. As soon as we know, we'll let the public know."

For her part, Ritter said the community would ultimately benefit, despite the stress HCA's closing of De Soto Family Practice brought to the city.

In the past few weeks she and Hitchcock have learned a number of area hospitals and health-care providers have been looking at De Soto, she said. HCA's announcement tweaked that interest.

"Ultimately, this is going to be a win-win for the community," she said. "If HCA doesn't want to be here, obviously there is somebody who does."

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