Friday, December 27, 2019

Costs down, profits up.

The closing of a rural hospital in southeastern Missouri in June 2018 as an appalling example of how life-threatening a lack of health care can be in rural areas.

The hospital that closed was Twin Rivers Medical Center in Kennett, Missouri. Although Twin Rivers was profitable, its owner, Community Health Systems, closed it and moved its resources to another facility about an hour away in Poplar Bluff.

“In deciding to shut Twin Rivers,” journalist Chris McGreal explains, “company executives made a calculation: close one hospital, and patients will be forced to use the other. Costs down, profits up.”
Twin Rivers employees warned that the other facility was too far away for Kennett residents with urgent health care needs. Former Twin Rivers nurse Tonia Swink predicted, “Heart attack patients are not going to make it. Stroke victims are not going to make it, or they’re going to have severe disabilities.”
Swink was absolutely right. Dr. Dave Jain, who worked at Twin Rivers for 29 years, told The Guardian that closing the hospital did, in fact, result in unnecessary deaths. 
Jain explained, “We’re having probably three to five more deaths a month without having the hospital here. I had a 35-year-old patient who started having chest pain; he needed to get to an emergency room but died on the way to the hospital. There are multiple deaths due to not having emergency services, mostly from heart attacks and accidents. There’s nowhere to stabilize them. If they’re having a heart attack, they’re dying before they get to the hospital. Plus, the infant mortality rate has increased since the hospital closed.”
Pregnant women and new mothers in Kennett, McGreal reports, are facing a major crisis. Julie Helfer, a nurse in the area, told The Guardian, “A lot of our moms are having to travel long distances for routine appointments like ultrasounds. But transportation is a huge issue for a lot of our moms. They don’t have a vehicle or even a way to get back and forth to their doctor’s appointments at the hospitals. If they go into labor, they cross their fingers and hope to make it.”

Dr. Tim McPherson, who is now in private practice in Kennett after 35 years at Twin Rivers, told the Guardian that “people have died as a result” of Community Health Systems deciding to close the hospital.

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