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St. Francis Health Owner Says Topeka Hospital ‘Not Sustainable’

Jim McLean
Kansas News Service
Rumors about the future of St. Francis Health in Topeka spurred supporters to organize a vigil Monday outside the hospital. On Tuesday the hospital's owner said it would cease operations there this summer.

The owner of St. Francis Health left no doubt it won’t continue to run the Topeka hospital for more than a few months.

The lingering question is whether anyone else will step in to keep it from closing.

Mike Slubowski, president and CEO of SCL Health, said in a news release Tuesday that he hopes to have a clear answer about the hospital’s future by the first week of May. SCL, formerly known as the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, is based in Denver.

Several hundred people participated in a candlelight vigil in support of the hospital on Monday night, and Gov. Sam Brownback told reporters Tuesday that he had met with SCL officials and secured a commitment to keep the hospital open longer. Rumors had swirled that SCL would announce Tuesday that it was closing the hospital.

SCL’s statement laid out a narrow path for the hospital to remain open, however. It offered to donate St. Francis Health to another organization if one stepped up quickly but ruled out a long transition.

“With or without another operator, however, SCL Health will cease operating the hospital this summer,” it said.

Read the news release on the future of St. Francis Health.

Slubowski didn’t use the announcement as a sales pitch, however. He noted the hospital had lost $117 million over five years and said affiliated clinics had lost $31 million in 2016. He also pointed to a declining patient base.

“St. Francis Health is not sustainable in today’s dramatically changing health care environment,” he said in the release. “But that doesn’t diminish the legacy of more than a century of service to this community or prevent another modified role in the future.”

Kansas’ decision not to expand Medicaid also hurt the hospital, SCL said, noting that uncompensated and charity care had doubled from 2012 to 2016.

Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat, said Tuesday that she anticipates lawmakers will try to pass another Medicaid expansion bill when they return in May. She expects proponents will include a work requirement for recipients or make similar changes to appeal to Republicans who don’t oppose expansion altogether.

Kelly accused the governor of not doing everything he could to support St. Francis. Brownback vetoed an expansion bill earlier this year, and the House failed to override it.

“The most immediate thing he could do is let Medicaid expansion become a reality,” she said.

Melika Willoughby, Brownback's spokeswoman, said the governor is working with stakeholders on a solution. She also pointed to an inquiry by Attorney General Derek Schmidt into the foundation supporting St. Francis.

“Medicaid expansion would not address the root problems facing St. Francis. Attorney General Schmidt’s inquiry, launched at Governor Brownback’s request, aims to keep Kansas-based charitable assets in Kansas, better addressing the long-term needs of St. Francis Hospital,” she said.

Meg Wingerter is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and KMUW covering health, education and politics in Kansas. You can reach her on Twitter @MegWingerter. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.

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