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Possible North Kansas City Hospital Sale Draws Protests

Elana Gordon

Emotions ran high at a town hall this weekend, over the possible sale of North Kansas City Hospital. More than 100 residents and hospital staff packed North Kansas City’s high school auditorium to protest any such proposal.

The Town Hall was organized by State Senator Ryan Silvey and Representative Jay Swearingen, who are trying to figure out whether to get involved in the matter.

Talks of a possible sale emerged last spring, when city officials hired someone to explore options for the hospital’s future. The hospital is in good financial standing, but the city administrator had said it was important to at least consider a sale, given the future uncertainties and challenges in health care.

The hospital’s board responded with a lawsuit, alleging the city doesn’t have the right to sell the place and that it's not in the interest of residents (who voted to establish the hospital half a century ago).

“We’ve [myself and Swearingen] heard from both sides. We’ve met together with the hospital board, we’ve met together with the city. And we’ve heard conflicting stories,” Senator Silvey told attendees on Saturday. “I’m not here to lay out any agenda or lay out a bill I think I’m going to sponsor. I’m here to hear from you about what you think about the current state of the hospital and what you think about the future state of the hospital.”

Many who turned out donned stickers that said, “Don’t Sell North Kansas City Hospital!”

“I know people that gave part of their salary, everything to help get it [the hospital] started,” said longtime resident, JoAnn Hadley. “My mother walked the street, we got pledges. It’s the most wonderful thing that ever happened to our wonderful little town. And it just breaks my heart that they would even think about getting rid of it. We’re the only hospital that’s done so well. Why anyone would want to let it go, I couldn’t imagine.”

Hadley sat near the front of the auditorium. She was joined by her relative, Carolyn Fowler, who's also a nurse at North Kansas City Hospital.

“I’ve been through this before with Health Midwest when they sold our hospitals [Trinity Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., for example], and I know what happens when big corporations take over small-town feeling hospitals,” said Fowler. “I think the caring goes out…They’ve closed hospitals completely [like Trinity].”

During the public testimony session, only one person spoke in support of allowing the city to even consider a possible sale.

“There is this larger economic issue in the changing nature of health care that I think you have to think about, without just writing it off as everything will always be the same, and the hospital will always be as it is,” said Ryan Tull, a resident of North Kansas City. “I think that’s just something we have to deal with.”

Officials with the city didn't speak at the meeting.

Senator Silvey and Representative Swearingen said they hope to help city and hospital leaders reach a solution. Legal fees are mounting for both groups. Silvey said another option is to file legislation requiring voter approval for any sale to move forward.

The dispute comes amid a recent wave of other possible hospital sales and mergers in region, including Providence hospital in Kansas City, Kan., Saint Johns Hospital in Leavenworth, St. Joseph Hospital in South Kansas City and St. Mary’s Medical Center in Lee’s Summit.

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