June 7, 2017
NORTON, Kan. – The Norton County Hospital Board of Trustees and administration has announced that the planned infrastructural expansion and renovation project has been indefinitely suspended. The project, in the works for more than five years, was in its final stages with plans to break ground in summer 2017, but it came to a halt in April when funds were not available to finance the $11 million project with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) – Rural Development.
Despite whether or not USDA funds would be available in the near future, the decision to suspend the project was made with the current financial state of the hospital in mind. Several factors, including but not limited to the current volatility surrounding health care at state and national levels, have caused the hospital to face substantial financial losses over the past 10 months.
“These losses have added up quickly and have made the expansion and renovation project unfeasible at this point,” said Norton County Hospital’s CEO Ryan Stover. “We are disheartened to have to put a stop to this important project so late in the process, but we are thankful to have not yet broken ground and started a project that we may not have been able to finish.”
“Transparency with the public is crucial during this time,” Stover added. “We plan to keep the public apprised of additional information and decisions moving forward. Tough, but necessary decisions about the future of our hospital must be well thought out from a business standpoint.”
A majority of Norton County Hospital’s current surgical services are endoscopy procedures, such as colonoscopies and upper endoscopies, and they will continue to be available by Dr. Tom Kriley, family practice, and the hospital’s surgical nursing team. However, because the expansion and renovation project is not moving forward at this time, and surgery was the main priority area of that project, the hospital cannot continue to keep all surgical services going as they are now. Unfortunately, an immediate decision has been made to discontinue some of the hospital’s surgical services.
Norton County Hospital will be phasing out surgeries performed by Dr. Greg Sarin, orthopedic surgeon, and Dr. Pamela Steinle, general surgeon. Patients will still be able to have scheduled surgeries and fulfill scheduled visits with these providers. The hospital is working out some logistics, such as the exact end dates for those services, and will continue to provide more information on its website.
Stover said surgical losses make up about 25 percent of current overall losses, which is why the decision to reduce surgeries had to be made. He said that he appreciates all that Dr. Sarin and Dr. Steinle have done for patients during their tenure at Norton County Hospital.
There are no other staffing changes at this time. The hospital will continue to provide women’s health services, including labor and delivery. Cesarean sections will continue to be available, as well as services offered by Dr. Todd Pankratz, a visiting OBGYN specialist.
Another unfortunate but necessary decision has been made by Norton County Hospital to discontinue preparing meals for the Meals on Wheels program. Over time, the hospital has done this as a service to the community with the help of volunteers to deliver the meals. Participants pay a fee for their meals; the hospital receives that compensation to cover a portion of the meal costs, but the amount doesn’t come close to covering total costs to provide the service. The operating costs to run the program have continued to climb each year; in fact, last year, the hospital lost more than $102,000 to provide meals for the Meals on Wheels program and the Norton County Jail. Meals on Wheels made up a majority of that financial loss.
“Losses such as these have to be considered and require action, as much as it pains us to discontinue this charitable service to the community,” Stover said. “We have been contacting participants to let them know that we will end this program after July 31, 2017.”
This decision only means the hospital will no longer be preparing the meals and gathering volunteers for this service. Meals on Wheels of Norton County is a separate entity from the hospital and could partner with another organization to continue the service. The hospital has also been working on alternatives for Meals on Wheels participants; for example, participants have been provided with contact information for the local Senior Center, where they may be able to purchase low-cost meals on weekdays. Those with specific questions about Meals on Wheels may contact the hospital at 785-877-3351.
In addition to surgery, the infrastructural expansion and renovation project would have allowed for necessary updates to the hospital’s physical therapy, chemotherapy, dietary and pharmacy departments. All along, hospital administration and the board have planned for the project to happen through financing and without raising local taxes. Moving forward, Stover said the hospital still faces needs to update and renovate to continue to remain compliant with regulations and provide the best patient care possible.
“Although the planned expansion and renovation project is off at this point, we have a facility that needs updating,” Stover said. “We will be considering aspects of the expansion and renovation project that can potentially be completed in pieces and phases so that we can continue to stride ahead. We know it is necessary to regroup and prioritize our needs for this facility, and we are also working closely with our new Norton Regional Health Foundation on ways to fund some of these necessary improvements.”
Norton County Hospital thanks members of the public for their understanding and patience in this matter.