Column: Rural Hospitals need our support

My heart is breaking for the families in the Bourbon County community. With the announcement that Mercy Hospital in Fort Scott will close, we are reminded once again of the devastating impact the Brownback Administration has had on our rural communities.

When this closure is complete, about 200 employees will lose their jobs. Not only that, Fort Scott and Bourbon County will lose access to an important healthcare facility. Families will be forced to drive longer distances for emergency care or other basic healthcare. The impact this closure will have on Southeast Kansas cannot be overstated.

Sadly, it didn’t have to be this way. This is not the first time a Kansas community has lost their hospital – and if we do not change course immediately, it will not be the last. In October of 2015, the hospital in Independence closed. State leaders did not heed the lesson then. And the consequences for our communities have been dire.

Simply put: if Kansas had expanded Medicaid, Fort Scott would still have a hospital.

In 2017, the legislature passed Medicaid expansion, but unfortunately, Governor Sam Brownback vetoed it. I joined a bipartisan majority in voting for expansion that would have supported our rural hospitals and provided healthcare to more families.

Gov. Brownback – and politicians, like Kris Kobach, who opposed Medicaid expansion – risked our hospitals and our health. The result has been hospital closures, nursing home closures, and huge uncompensated care burdens that fall on local taxpayers.

This is one of many reasons we need to change course in November. We must elect leaders who will put the best interests of our families and communities first – before politics. This spring, we must again pass Medicaid expansion. And as your governor, I will advocate for it and sign it into law.

Expanding Medicaid will support our hospitals and ensure that more Kansans can have access to quality healthcare, regardless of their zip code. It will also have a positive economic impact on the state and create jobs in the process. It may be too late for the Fort Scott hospital, but it may save other hospitals, nursing homes and clinics from closure.

This is just one step towards strengthening our rural communities, but there is much more to do. As part of my comprehensive rural prosperity plan, we will focus on supporting healthcare, but also on investing in schools, developing affordable housing, investing in roads and broadband, and partnering with local communities to create real growth.

The loss of Mercy Hospital in Fort Scott is a significant blow to the community. I understand the impact this has on families and will do everything I can as governor to prevent it from happening in other communities across our state. Together, we can support our families and hospitals and rebuild Kansas.