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Sumner Community Hospital’s closing leaves local leaders scrambling for answers

Updated with Wichita Business Journal quote below: 

by Shane Farley, Newscow.net — Sumner Community Hospital in Wellington abruptly closed its doors Thursday, leaving local leaders digesting the impact of an announcement that came so unexpectantly.

The hospital released a brief statement Friday.

“This was completed in an orderly fashion to ensure that patients were transferred to appropriate care facilities. Employees were compensated for all hours worked and benefits were paid.”

Wellington City Manager Shane Shields said he was notified Wednesday – by an attorney for the Health Care Authority, which oversees the operation of Sumner Community Hospital. He was told the hospital could close as early as Monday of next week. Instead, employees said, were told Thursday afternoon they no longer had jobs because the hospital and health clinic were closing.

Shields said it was his understanding that patients were transferred out of the hospital to other facilities at some point Thursday. By 7:30 p.m. that day, the doors of the hospital were locked, inside lights were turned off and signs had been hung informing visitors of the closings.

Sumner Community Hospital was being operated by Kansas City-based Rural Hospital Group, a privately owned company that has several business entities throughout the Midwest. Plans had been for the company to operate in the old hospital building on North A until a new 15-bed facility could be constructed on the corridor on U.S. 160. When the sale was finalized on Nov. 21, 2018, it was sold for $3.85 million. 

Shields said he believes the company had made a good faith effort to keep the hospital open. The hospital, previously named Sumner Regional Medical Center, was publicly funded until 2019. It had a history of financial struggles over the years.

“They (RGH) were trying to accomplish what had previously been agreed to,” Shields said in brief comments by phone.

Shane Shields

In the short term, Shields said, patients would need to be transported to hospitals in other cities for treatment. The city, though, will continue to look for long-term options.

“There are many other details and areas to be addressed relating to the closure of the hospital,” Shields said in an official statement on the closing. “Most importantly, what options may exist for the near and long-term future in the provision of emergency health care for the community. The City will diligently research and review what possibilities may exist for the best benefit for the health and safety of the community.”

In the official statement (see in the story below), Shields said the city had hoped RHG was the answer to keeping the hospital operating.

“The financial difficulties of our local hospital have been ongoing for a number of years. It was the hope that Rural Hospital Group (RHG) would be able to overcome the difficulties and be successful in the longer-term plans to construct a new and financially sustainable hospital. That task appears to be insurmountable.”

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In the summer of 2019, Dr. Tami McCue had begun seeing patients at Sumner Community Hospital. It marked the reestablishment of a local practice by McCue, who had treated patients at the former Sumner Regional Medical Center.

Tami McCue

McCue said she was given no warning the hospital would be closing and had recently been adding patients. She was out of town when she got news of the sudden closing.

“What you would like to do is form some kind of a contingency plan,” she said. “There was no time given to plan for anything.”

McCue did not rule out continuing to practice locally in another location. She said at this point, though, she was still processing the closing of a hospital that served Wellington for many years.

“I feel especially bad for employees, it’s a difficult time for them, many of whom had given years of service to the hospital,” McCue said by phone.

She said the timing of the closure was made worse because Wellington is left without an emergency care facility at a time of concern regarding the Coronavirus.

“People are already a little nervous and stressed,” she said. “And this adds to that.”

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The local Health Care Authority – which oversees operations at the hospital – also issued a statement Friday:

“The Hospital Board is deeply saddened by the devastating news of the closing of our hospital. 

The sense of loss to the community of such a fundamentally important resource, and the profound sense of sadness for the highly dedicated and loyal employees of the hospital, many who have worked at the Hospital for decades, are overwhelming. 

While the sudden manner of its departure is quite surprising and disappointing, the efforts of RHG over the last year and a half to maintain a hospital in our community, and its significant expenditures of funds to try to turn the hospital into a sustainable business are to be commended, the Board certainly understands that Company’s resources are not unlimited, and as a result, however painful, we respect its decision.”

The press release continued:

The reasons that our community could not sustain a hospital are complex; multi-faceted; and, subject to now pointless debate. The Board will continue to work on those efforts that it commenced post-sale of the hospital to address remaining creditor issues, and to fully complete it tasks.

The support of the community as a whole, and City leaders in particular, over the last many years during the struggle to keep the hospital open have been heartwarming, and are why we are proud to call Wellington our home.”

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SRMC, which had been in existence since 1994 after the consolidation of two Wellington hospitals, had been financially struggling hospital and was believed to have been on the verge of closing in 2018 when RHG approached the SRMC board for purchase (see story here). 

It appeared everything was going well, at least on the surface. Sumner Community Hospital had aggressively brought in out-patient medical professionals. Just this week, a one-year celebration for the Sumner Community Hospital was scheduled to take place. However, it was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The news came as a shock to employees which were relieved of their duties, without little to no notice on Thursday afternoon. As news leaked on social media many Wellington citizens drove to the hospital parking lot to see firsthand if it was true.

In the Wichita Business Journal a statement from Rural Hospital Group said a “lack of support from the local medical community was the primary reason we are having to close the hospital. We regret having to make this decision; however, despite operating the hospital in the most fiscally responsible manner possible, we simply could not overcome the divide that has existed from the time we purchased the hospital until today.”

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