Slamming Doors on Rural Hospital Care

Chuck Norris on

Late last year, St. Louis-based Mercy health system announced that the 132-year-old Fort Scott Hospital would be joining the growing list of closures. Located about 90 miles south of Kansas City, Kansas, the news both shocked and surprised the community's 7,800 residents. Mercy is a major health care conglomerate with more than 40 acute care and specialty hospitals, as well as 900 physician practices and outpatient facilities. Fort Scott's hospital is the second one in Kansas that Mercy has closed.

As detailed in a series of Kaiser Health News reports, within weeks of Mercy closing, a newly built $9 million grocery store closed. A few weeks later, the cancer center closed and, by October, the town's dialysis center had closed.

"(It) leaves the community with few, if any, health care options," said Marilyn Serafini, health project director for the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. "They may have to drive long distances to receive care, or they may have to do without care."

It is important to understand that these tectonic changes are occurring without any long-term plan to deal with the consequences, or understanding of what the closures mean to the health of people in rural America, where the burden of disease is generally greater than in urban areas. As the Kaiser Health News reports point out, nationwide, death rates have been higher in rural America compared with urban areas since the 1980s. It is a gap that continues to widen.

Fort Scott has become a prime example of this gap. It is a community where 1 out of every 4 children lives in poverty. Rates of diabetes, obesity and tobacco smoking are higher than the state average. Premature births are relatively high, and people often die younger here than the national average. Mercy Hospital in Fort Scott delivered more than 230 babies in the year before it closed. Now those mothers need to travel to the nearest hospital, 30 miles away.

If not a hospital to care for rural communities, then what is the solution? The answer is playing out in places like Fort Scott and could hold lessons for the rest of the country.


Let us not lose sight of the role hospital conglomerates play in all this. Retail drug spending represents 10% of U.S. health care spending, while hospitals receive $1 out of every $3 spent on health care. These closures are happening as hospital profitability is at its highest levels in decades. Now, what is the lesson in that?


Write to Chuck Norris ( with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at


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