Pratt County voters said no to a new hospital in 2010; in August 2012, they approved a three-quarter cent sales tax increase to fund a $29 million addition and renovation project that proponents say will bring the 64-year-old hospital up to date, conform to the way medicine is practiced in the 21st century and enhance the economic role Pratt Regional Medical Center plays in the community.
Area towns are facing similar issues with their 60-plus-year-old hospitals.
In 2008, administrators at Medicine Lodge Memorial Hospital and Kiowa District Hospital presented a plan to Barber County commissioners to replace both hospitals. At an election that November, 52 percent of voters approved the creation of a Public Building Commission with the authority to issue up to $26.5 million in revenue bonds. Commissioners declined to take the final step to issue the bonds, but in the intervening years, have approved a modified plan.
An addition and remodeling project is underway at Medicine Lodge Memorial Hospital and Kiowa will get a new facility.
The same questions arise in the small towns (Medicine Lodge, population 2020 and Kiowa, 1031) as in Pratt. Do the towns really need a hospital, or do residents go out of town for most medical services?
The Medicine Lodge hospital handles general acute care, like pneumonia or flu, and its skilled care unit allows residents to come back home for rehabilitation after a hip replacement in Wichita or Pratt, administrator Kevin White explained. Having an up to date emergency room "speaks for itself," he said, offering faster treatment that can make a difference in the outcome.
In addition, the hospital is the second-largest employer in Medicine Lodge, and with a $4 million annual payroll is a "vital business in the community."
The project is being funded by $6 million in revenue bonds and $4.5 million from the United States Department of Agriculture. Work began Aug. 14 to add 17,000 square feet and remodel an equal amount of space. The one-room emergency space was not adequate, patient rooms were too small and not handicapped-accessible, the 62-year-old heating, plumbing and electrical systems "would not meet any codes" and other spaces were inadequate as well, according to White.
Former resident Lloyd E. Clark has challenged the hospital board and Medicine Lodge Community Health Foundation to raise $500,000 by next June and promised to match the amount dollar-for-dollar. That money will be used for new equipment not being replaced in the building project, White said.
Kiowa District Hospital is "bursting at the seams" with some offices "essentially in closets," according to Brenna May, coordinator of development and public relations, and had no place to build but up in its landlocked space. Remodeling the 61-year-old facility would cost a million more than a new building, just south of town, she said.
Page 2 of 2 - Ground-breaking is set for Oct. 18 and completion is projected for January 2014.
The new hospital will include eight patient rooms that will accommodate any patient, whether pediatric, geriatric or bariatric (overweight) with private showers, two emergency areas, and an enlarged surgery suite.
"We need a hospital here, especially an updated one," May asserted. "In an emergency situation, you can't make a 30 minute drive (to Alva, Okla., Anthony or Medicine Lodge)."
Kiowa District Hospital, with 86 employees, is a significant employer in the town.
A decision has not been made about the facility that will be vacated when the new hospital is finished. It could be sold, or it could be used for other medical services, such as for a dentist or eye doctor, May said.