Independence city manager describes mold strains, relocation of city offices


This week, Independence leaders received more specific information regarding the types of health concerns that have been identified through medical testing. Independence City Manager Micky Webb explained that employees filing complaints underwent RAST (radioallergosorbent) mold profile testing to identify the substances potentially causing their illnesses. As a result, the employees tested positive for six mold strains, Webb said.

Webb further explained the mold exposure is believed to have occurred within City Hall because the employees developed symptoms while in the building, but the symptoms resolved after a period of time outside of the building. Additionally, he said, untested mold growth is visible on multiple surfaces in the building’s interior, including on walls, air conditioning units, air vents and other areas.
In evaluating the safety of the facility, Webb said, a professional environmental consulting company has been engaged. After an on-site inspection, a company representative concurred with the decision to vacate the premises.

“The environmental consultants have advised the city that relocation of City Hall services will provide the safest alternative to protect employee health and to minimize public exposure,” Webb said.
“We know we have a problem, which has now been confirmed through medical testing and the evaluation by environmental consultants,” Webb said. “However, we don’t yet know the entire scope of the problem. Therefore, we are taking every precaution to avoid future health risks to our employees and our citizens who do business at City Hall.”

Over the next several days, city departments will relocate operations to temporary quarters in the former Mercy Hospital facility (“Building D”) at 811 W. Laurel. The Independence Police Department, currently located in the basement of City Hall, will be the first department to move, followed by other city services in a phased process. All departments currently housed at City Hall are expected to be operational in Building D by August 12, Webb said, with the exception of the 911 dispatch center, which will transition to a mobile unit outside of City Hall for the next several weeks to allow time for installation of a new 911 communications system at the Laurel Street location. Webb emphasized that there will be no disruption of any emergency services during the relocation process.

All other departments within City Hall will be closed Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 10 and 11, to allow staff to complete the relocation. The regular city commission meeting scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 11, will be conducted as scheduled.

Once City Hall is vacated, Webb said, city leaders and commissioners will evaluate the next steps. He noted the city’s legal counsel advises the city engage an environmental consultant to help address next steps related to the building concerns.

As the relocation plan continues to develop, Webb said, more detailed information will be shared with the community on how to access city departments, as well as information on the status of the City Hall building. Citizens are, encouraged to continue to watch local newspapers and frequently visit the city’s Facebook page – – and website – – for developing information.

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Peck, Knox defeated in primary election; Goddard, Dierks, Gettler, Blex are winners


(EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous posting indicating Virgil Peck was the winner in the Kansas Senate, 15th District, was in error due to final ballots not being counted by the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office. Even though the Secretary of State indicated via its website that all precincts in the 15th District had been accounted for in the polling, the actual ballots had not yet been finalized. The story below is an update to the earlier posting).

Virgil Peck, a Republican from Havana who is one of the more conservative members of the Kansas Legislature, was defeated in the Republican nomination for the Kansas Senate, 15th District, on Tuesday.

Peck lost the 15th District GOP nomination to Dan Goddard of Parsons. Goddard received 3,469 votes, or 51 percent, to Peck’s 3,302 votes, or 49 percent.

The 15th District includes most of Montgomery County and Labette County and all of Neosho County.

The difference in the race is 167 votes. Each county will count provisional ballots next week. However, its unknown if there are enough provisional ballots cast to render a change in the Peck-Goddard race. Provisional ballots are cast whenever a voter’s place of residency or voter registration is questionable at the polling site.

If Goddard clinches the nomination with the provisional ballots, he will face Chuck Schmidt, an Independence Democrat, in the Nov. 8 general election.

The Peck-Goddard race was one of several hot races in Tuesday’s primary election. The other hotly-contested battle saw State Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, defeated in his re-election bid. Knox, whose district includes the Elk City area, lost his Republican reelection bid to Bruce Givens of El Dorado. Givens won the 14th District Republican nomination with 6,392 votes, or 52 percent, compared to Knox’s 5,804 votes, or 48 percent.

Givens will now face Mark Pringle, a Democrat, in the Nov. 8 general election. Pringle defeated Carl Shay Jr., in a narrow fight for the Democrat nomination. Pringle had 1,163 votes, or 55 percent, while Shay earned 968 votes, or 45 percent.

The difference in the Shay-Pringle fight is 225 votes. Provisional ballots, which will be counted next week in each county, could yield a change in that race.

In another legislative race of local interest, Doug Blex, a rural Independence Republican, won the GOP nomination for the Kansas House of Representatives, 12th District, by defeating Brad Hall of Independence. Blex received the districtwide Republican total with 1,825 votes, or 61 percent, compared to Hall’s 1,173 votes, or 39 percent.

Blex will now face Democrat Party nominee Jean Kurtis Schodorf of Sedan for the 12th District general election on Nov. 8.

In other contested races in the area, Montgomery County Sheriff Robert Dierks is assured a four-year term to his office after winning the Republican nomination. Dierks defeated Sherlene Stroud by a 2,461 to 481 margin. Dierks will be uncontested in the Nov 8 general election.

Jeffrey Gettler will be the next judge in the 14th Judicial District, which includes Montgomery and Chautauqua counties. Gettler, an Independence attorney, defeated Robert Latin, also an Independence attorney, for the Republican nomination. Gettler received 2,239 votes, or 63 percent, compared to Lattin’s 1,323 votes, or 37 percent.

Gettler will be uncontested in the Nov. 8 general election.

* Robert Dierks: 2461
Sherlene Stroud: 481

(Montgomery County):
Jeffrey Gettler: 1767
Robert Lattin: 1079

(Chautauqua County):
Jeffrey Gettler: 472
Robert Lattin: 244

TOTAL (Montgomery and Chautauqua counties)
* Jeffrey Gettler: 2239
Robert Lattin: 1323

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One year later: how private interest, local decisions influenced Independence’s changing medical scene

Editor’s foreword: The headline in the July 23, 2015 issue of the Montgomery County Chronicle read, “Letter of intent: CRMC to buy Mercy Hospital.” Much has happened since that story was written. Not only did the Coffeyville Regional Medical Center and Mercy letter of intent dissolve, so, too, did Mercy Hospital. The Mercy Health System closed its Independence hospital in October 2015, leaving the community devoid of hospital or emergency services. Since then, several area medical entities, including CRMC, St. John Health System/Jane Phillips Medical Center, Labette Health and Wilson Medical Center have expanded their primary care clinics in Independence. Labette Health has announced plans to build a 17,000 square feet facility that will include its primary care clinics but also an emergency department. Meanwhile, Independence city taxpayers became owners of the former Mercy Hospital facility in a deal that solidified St. John Health System’s presence in the community.
That agreement evolved into a lawsuit filed by Labette Health against Kansas Department of Health and Environment for issuing a memorandum of understanding that allows Oklahoma-based St. John Health System to receive a higher rate of reimbursement from Medicaid/Medicare for radiology and imaging services in Independence — without providing emergency care services in the community.
That lawsuit was rejected by a Shawnee County district court last week. However, it was viewed widely, especially those in the legal and medical communities who kept an eye on the changing medical scene in Independence as a harbinger of things to come elsewhere in Kansas hospitals.
This week, Lawrence attorney Max Kautsch prepared the following chronology of events that not only recounts the decisions that were made in the past year but also how those decisions by key stakeholders put the community in its present condition.
And, all of those decisions ultimately have influenced the timely discussions now occurring concerning the future location of the Independence City Hall.
Without a doubt, what has happened in Independence in the past 12 months has been a swift change in a community’s identity and a community’s reach of vital services. Healthcare has changed. The community has changed. And, others across Kansas are watching Independence to see what happens next.
It should be remembered that the bulk of all discussions concerning the future use of Mercy Hospital in 2015 were handled behind closed doors, pursuant to confidentiality agreements signed by medical providers and the City of Independence. Kautsch’s recreation of events was taken from news accounts that reported on the few public announcements and public decisions regarding Independence’s changing healthcare scene.
Kautsch’s initial story is fully footnoted. However, the Montgomery County Chronicle has removed those footnotes for the sake of space.
The full story will be printed in its entirety — with footnotes — at the Chronicle’s website at — Andy Taylor, editor

When Mercy Hospital in Independence closed its doors in October 2015, it was national news partly because the city, with a population of around 9,500, became the largest in the state without emergency services.
Mercy made its intentions apparent more than a year earlier, and members of the community voiced concern. Local government officials began looking for a way to bring emergency services to town, including assisting Mercy negotiate with other healthcare providers to purchase Mercy’s assets.
When those negotiations failed, Labette County Medical Center, a Kansas healthcare organization already operating a clinic in Independence, proposed expanding those services to include an emergency room.
But instead of acting on that proposal or any other that would result in emergency services for Independence, local government officials abruptly changed course and said residents who need such care should go to a Bartlesville, Okla., hospital—the Jane Phillips Medical Center owned by St. John Health System—a 40-minute drive away.
Shortly after first stating publicly that Jane Phillips was a viable destination for emergency services, the City acquired the Mercy Hospital facilities as a result of city commission action still making news months later.
Then, the City leased the facilities to St. John for use as an outpatient clinic rather than as an emergency room.
The lease agreement also precluded the City from financially supporting any other healthcare provider’s attempt to bring emergency services to town as long as St. John operates there.
In spite of those obstacles, Labette Health initiated plans for an emergency room in Independence in March of 2016 to meet continued demand for hospital and emergency services.
However, that facility will not open until the summer of 2017, at the earliest. Until then, Independence will be without local emergency services.
Meanwhile, St. John, which is part of Ascension Health, a Missouri-based corporation describing itself as the “nation’s largest nonprofit health system and the world’s largest Catholic health system,” is now a key player in the Independence health care market. An agreement signed by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment will allow the St. John clinic, as soon as July 1, 2016, to receive substantially increased Medicare payments for imaging outpatient services at the clinic. Ordinarily, a clinic would be eligible for such increased revenues only if it were connected with a hospital with emergency services in Kansas. However, the agreement signed by KDHE will allow St. John to gain the increased Medicare payments without incurring the expense of providing costly emergency services in the state. Labette Health has filed a lawsuit to void the agreement, arguing in part that the agreement gives St. John a competitive advantage over Kansas healthcare providers who are required by law to provide needed emergency care before they can qualify to receive increased Medicare payments for other services, but a Shawnee County district court recently rejected Labette’s position.
Even so, the developments in Independence illuminate how the availability of health care can be influenced by local politics, competition among hospitals in static or declining markets, and prospects for enhanced hospital revenues for those willing to take advantage of the highly complex state and federal laws, regulations and public policy governing health care.

Mercy Hospital prepares for exit from Independence
Mercy Hospital had operated in Independence since 1910, but its parent company initiated a review of the facility, called “discernment,” in the spring 2014 with an eye toward “divesting itself” of its assets in Independence. To do so, Mercy negotiated with fellow Catholic organizations, including St. John.
However, Mercy failed to come to terms with St. John, so it began negotiations in the spring of 2015 with southeast Kansas healthcare provider Coffeyville Regional Medical Center (CRMC) to acquire Mercy’s Independence assets, including the emergency room.
In the summer of 2015, negotiations between the two healthcare providers stalled, and Mercy sought the City’s assistance.
Intent on retaining local emergency services, Independence city commissioners voted unanimously “to issue $3 million in bonds…for the purpose of retaining health care services in Independence” and appointed a committee to “look after the best interests of Independence” in the negotiations.
The bonds would issue only on the condition that Independence retain a “degree of health care services” in town, “including emergency or immediate care.”
Likewise, the Letter of Intent (LOI) between the parties indicated that the city was willing to spend the $3 million to ensure, among other healthcare-related objectives, the “provision of emergency/immediate care services at the Mercy facility.”
It was clear that city officials, including City Manager Micky Webb, “believed an emergency department was something of utmost importance for Independence,” and that the Mercy facilities would be used for that purpose.
Unfortunately for the citizens of Independence who shared that belief, even though Mercy and CRMC reached a reaching a tentative agreement on July 15, 2015 that would have left emergency services intact at the Mercy Hospital facilities, the parties ended negotiations on Sept. 1, 2015.
When it was announced that the hospitals could not reach an agreement, the Montgomery County Chronicle reported that “major blow was dealt to the Independence community—and to the future of medical coverage in Montgomery County.”
Webb concurred, stating “it’s a very difficult situation for Independence.”
Two days later, Mercy announced it would be closing its Independence inpatient treatment unit and emergency room on Oct. 10, and its remaining facilities would be open no later than the end of 2015.
Citizens were “shocked” by Mercy’s closure. In a piece titled “Closing a hospital, and fearing for the future,” the New York Times reported “the economic cost of losing the hospital could be stark, local officials said. Though there are two other hospitals within a half-hour’s drive, Micky Webb, the city manager, said companies considering coming to Independence often asked whether there was a hospital in town, and that residents felt more secure with one within a few minutes’ reach.”

Local healthcare in flux; Mercy turns to St. John and the City
After failing to make a deal with CRMC, Mercy Hospital officials announced in early September that they would “negotiate solely with St. John Health System for an assumption of Mercy’s clinics and related services,” but not its hospital or emergency room.
The proposal included a taxpayer subsidy from the City in the amount of $2,250,000 to “guarantee its profits.”
In response, the city commission appointed a Healthcare Committee in early October, 2015, that included City Manager Micky Webb, city commissioner Fred Meier, city attorney Jeff Chubb, and Jim Kelly, Mercy Hospital board chairman (and state representative for the legislative district that includes Independence).
The city commission authorized the committee to negotiate only with St. John to develop a “healthcare plan proposal” that “provides the healthcare we think we need now and in the future in the City of Independence.”
On Oct. 9, 2015, the day before Mercy closed its emergency room, the City issued a press release stating it planned to negotiate with Mercy and St. John for the continuation of some services. At the same time, St. John issued a statement on its website that “Mercy leaders have confirmed a preliminary agreement with St. John Health System and the City of Independence to assume operation of local outpatient services.” The proposal by the City and St. John did not include a provision for any emergency services, although “a long-term vision, but not a contractual obligation, called for creation of an emergency department.”
Despite Mercy’s announcement that it would negotiate only with St. John, Labette Health, based in nearby Parsons, planned to pitch the possibility of bringing an emergency room to Independence that the City would own, with the help of the $3 million in bonds previously earmarked for CRMC.
During the month of October 2015, city officials met behind closed doors with administrators from both St. John and Labette Health to discuss both organizations’ positions. On Oct. 21, 2015, Labette Health made its proposal to the city commission for “an emergency department for Independence.” However, the city commission never considered it.
Instead, after a meeting “with St. John/Jane Phillips officials” on Oct. 27, 2016, city manager Webb told a reporter that although he originally believed Independence needed an emergency room, he now believed “it would ‘be a mistake’ for Independence to have a free-standing emergency department.”
That same day, members of the Healthcare Committee, including Kelly and Webb, told the Independence Chamber of Commerce board of directors that the most favorable plan for Independence would favor a relationship with St. John Health System/Jane Phillips Medical Center” because “[t]he the bulk of traffic for medical care already goes south to Bartlesville and Tulsa, where Jane Phillips Medical Center and St. John Health System have a firm hold.”
Despite the Health Care Committee’s sudden efforts to convince the public that local emergency services were no longer necessary, the city commissioners rejected the St. John proposal by a 2-1 vote.
Then-Mayor Leonhard Caflisch explained his vote against by telling a reporter that the city “was looking for a medical provider that could bring an emergency department” and that because St. John is owned by a Missouri corporation, Ascension Health, the proposal did not provide for sufficient “local decision making.”
The other two commissioners, even Meier, who cast the one vote in favor, expressed concern because it included over $2 million in taxpayer subsidies to benefit a “billion dollar corporation.”
After the city rejected the St. John plan, the commission declared the city’s intent to “open negotiations with interested medical providers — including Wilson County Medical Center in Neodesha, Neosho Regional Medical Center in Chanute, Coffeyville Regional Medical Center, Labette Health in Parsons and even St. John Health System — to open an urgent care or emergency department in Independence.”
At the time, “commissioners admitted that prospects would be slim that St. John…would be willing to entertain another proposal for Independence healthcare coverage.”
However, by Nov. 20, 2015, Kelly, a member of the city’s Healthcare Committee and now the former chairman of the board of Mercy, remained in favor of a relationship with Jane Phillips. In various news reports, he cited “the tendency of patients to go out of town for health care. People in Independence are used to traveling to Bartlesville to shop, Kelly said, and the path from Independence to Bartlesville is well worn. When it comes to health care, he added, ‘the grass is always greener someplace else.’”

City negotiates for Mercy property, but not for
emergency services
Sentiment for emergency services at the Mercy Hospital property was so strong on Oct. 29, 2015, that the Independence City Commission rejected a plan for St. John to assume the property because the plan did not include an emergency room. Nevertheless, on Dec. 4, 2015, city officials made a deal for the property that would allow St. John to operate from the Mercy facilities anyway, even though emergency services would not be available there.
That day, the officials negotiated a Letter of Intent (LOI) with Mercy Hospital for the City itself to acquire the Mercy Hospital facilities. The City would then lease portions of them to St. John. The LOI provided that the transfer would occur with a “Restrictive Covenant” that will “remain in place for as long as St. John Health System…operates a multi-specialty clinic and provides laboratory and diagnostic imaging services in the Independence, Kansas community.” The restrictive covenants on the real estate the city received from Mercy allowed for administration of certain healthcare services, but prevented the establishment of an “abortion clinic,” or even a “counseling service” that “recommends…the consideration of abortion” as an option for its patients.
Even though the City had negotiated the LOI, there was still the matter of getting authority from the city commission in order to make the contract effective and acquire the property. In addition to the pushback the City was likely to receive given the proposal did not include the provision of emergency services, it had another problem: the wife of Commissioner Gary Hogsett, the commissioner most likely to join Commissioner Fred Meier and vote for the transfer, was employed as a doctor at Mercy. As such, Hogsett acknowledged that, by law, he had a “substantial interest” in that hospital. If he had a conflict of interest, Hogsett could not legally vote, and without his tiebreaking vote, the transfer was unlikely to go through, as Mayor Leonhard Caflisch was likely to vote against it.
Jeff Chubb, city attorney for Independence, sought to solve the problem by writing a letter to the Attorney General’s Office to get an advisory opinion on the conflict the day before the vote was to take place.
Chubb’s letter advised the Attorney General’s Office that he believed Hogsett’s vote would be permissible because “one element of a contract is not present: consideration.” In a response dated Dec. 17, 2015, the day of the vote, the Attorney General’s Office essentially concurred, noting that as long as the property was “transferred without exchange of any compensation,” an exception would apply, and Hogsett’s action at the meeting scheduled to take place that night would be permitted by law.
However, the deeds that ultimately recorded the transaction between Mercy and the City dated Dec. 21, 2015, included the restrictive covenants referenced in the Dec. 4 LOI. Although the City did not pay Mercy “compensation” in the traditional sense to acquire the property, the Kansas Court of Appeals has indicated that restrictive covenants are “part of the valuable contract consideration given and relied upon in the conveyance of land.”
There appears little doubt that Mercy, as a Catholic organization with strong pro-life views, benefited from “valuable consideration” by including the restrictions in the transfer. Likewise, the City gave Mercy “valuable consideration,” because in accepting the restrictive covenants, the City’s choices for how to use the property are limited.

Restrictions not
revealed; did city commission sign blank deed?
Unfortunately, the existence of the restrictions was not revealed to the commissioners or the public at the Dec. 17, 2015, city commission meeting when the commission considered, and ultimately accepted, the Mercy real estate on a 2-1 vote. Although the actual deeds recorded shortly thereafter included the restrictions, the vote was taken after the commission only considered what City Attorney Chubb later characterized as a “blank deed.”
City manager Micky Webb later admitted in a commission meeting he knew the restrictions would “follow” the property when the commission considered the issue, but didn’t “open” his “mouth” at the meeting. City Attorney Chubb also later admitted he was aware “since last June or July” that any transfer of the hospital would include such restrictions in accordance with the policy of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Wichita, but he didn’t say anything, either. Moreover, both of them had been in a position to know that the Dec. 4 LOI included explicit reference to the restrictions. Still, both failed to reveal that information to the commissioners or the public before or during the meeting.
In an attempt to explain how the restrictions appeared in the deeds after the vote was taken City Attorney Chubb was quoted in news reports that must have “added” the covenants to the deeds after the vote was taken, without the knowledge of the City.
Commissioner Hogsett’s vote was in favor of the transfer of Mercy’s real estate to the city. Before casting his vote, Hogsett indicated that after legal consultation, which included a discussion with the city attorney about the Attorney General’s Dec. 17, 2015, letter, the city attorney advised Hogsett that his admitted conflict of interest did not prevent him from voting. However, because Chubb expressly characterized the transaction as one that did not include “consideration” in his Dec. 16, 2015 letter to the Attorney General, that office did not have the opportunity to address whether accepting the property with restrictive covenants created an impermissible conflict of interest for Hogsett. Further, the Attorney General’s Office also advised Chubb that its opinion was not binding, and that the City should get an opinion from the Governmental Ethics Commission, but as of late June 2016, the city had yet to do so. Moreover, Mr. Hogsett has since recused himself on any matters involving Mercy “due to a conflict of interest with Commissioner Hogsett’s wife, Anne, a doctor, who was formerly employed by Mercy Hospital, [and] according to Kansas state statues (sic) make the commissioner ineligible to cast a vote in this matter.”
Why city officials seem to believe those same statutes permitted Hogsett to vote on the Mercy acquisition on Dec. 17, 2015, is unknown. The basis for questioning his eligibility to vote then is the same as now. If Hogsett voted when he had a conflict of interest, then, by law, he could be prosecuted for the conflict of interest violation, punishable as a Class B misdemeanor.
But with the votes cast, the City proceeded to acquire the property and lease it to St. John for $500,000 over five years to operate an imaging clinic. For all intents and purposes, the commission’s vote rejecting St. John’s assumption of the Mercy property on Oct. 29, 2015, had been nullified. Now, St. John not only occupied the property, but it also gained a market advantage because the lease prohibited the City from helping any other hospital organization set up a competing operation.
By Jan. 15, 2016, the $500,000 lease arrangement with St. John had been executed and was public knowledge. Further, on that day, the public became aware of an agreement between the City and Mercy, where Mercy would provide $1.4 million in demolition, remodeling, and construction services at the former Mercy facilities now owned by the City.

Ascension Health: higher Medicare
reimbursements thanks to the KDHE
Meanwhile, St. John and its parent company, Ascension, proceeded with plans to operate an outpatient imaging clinic at the former Mercy Hospital facilities.
The key to the plans was an agreement on April 19, 2016, between the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH). According to that document, the KDHE permits Ascension-owned Jane Phillips Medical Center in Bartlesville, Oklahoma “to operate a provider-based outpatient clinic in Independence, Kansas, as a department” of that hospital. According to Labette Health, who brought suit against the KDHE in Shawnee County District Court, the agreement allows Ascension “to receive substantially higher reimbursement” from Medicare for the imaging services it plans to offer in Independence beginning July 1, 2016.
If a clinic is a “provider-based entity,” it receives a special designation under Medicare law allowing it obtain reimbursement from the federal government for both the services rendered and the facilities at which they are rendered. In contrast, “freestanding facilities” are only allowed to bill for the services, not the facilities. The difference can amount to a profit increase of over 60 percent per patient. Ordinarily, the purpose of an arrangement to “reimburse at a higher rate to offset emergency room loses.”
However, St. John does not offer any emergency services in the state. Under Kansas law, in order for an outpatient clinic to be reimbursed by Medicare at a high rate as a “provider-based entity,” a Kansas health care provider is required to get a Kansas hospital license, and a condition of such a license is the provision of emergency services in the state.
Because St. John has no Kansas license, it only would appear eligible, under ordinary circumstances, to be reimbursed for services rendered at the former Mercy Hospital in Independence at the lower, “freestanding facility” rate.
Despite not investing in costly emergency services in Kansas, St. John remained undeterred in its efforts to obtain provider-based status for its Independence imaging clinic, and proceeded on Dec. 29, 2015, with its plans to open by July 1, 2016. Construction continued through the first half of 2016, and it became the beneficiary of the KDHE agreement allowing its Independence clinic to be reimbursed for services rendered as a “provider-based entity” on April 19, 2016.

Judge denies Labette Health’s attempt to challenge the KDHE
On June 27, 2016, a Shawnee County district judge denied Labette Health’s motion for a temporary restraining order that would have prevented St. John’s Independence clinic from becoming a “provider-based entity.”
Labette Health, due in large part to its recent significant commitment to providing needed emergency services in Independence, sought to dissolve the KDHE agreement in court. From it’s point of view, if St. John “is permitted to operate as it proposes, it will have all the benefits of being a Kansas hospital (including substantially higher reimbursement for the services it plans to provide) without a Kansas license and all of its accompanying obligations,” and “the Independence imaging center threatens the viability” of its planned “emergency care” operations in Independence.
KDHE argued that the contract benefiting St. John is valid in part because St. John relied on the prospect of “provider-based” billing in Independence before making further investment in the former Mercy Hospital property, and cites a post on St. John’s website reporting the Dec. 29, 2015, ground-breaking in support.
The KDHE further argued that it has broad statutory authority to contract with any party it chooses, and characterizes Labette Health’s lawsuit as an attempt to “stop a business competitor.” The agency further claims that Labette Health cannot operate in Independence because Independence is outside the Labette County borders.
Although none of those KDHE arguments were specifically referenced in the judge’s June 27, 2016 opinion, the Court still ruled against Labette Health in part because it concluded that the “loss of viability in the Labette satellite facility stems from competition with the Independence imaging center—not from certification by the KDHE.”

One year later:
has the public
been served?
Ascension, the Missouri-based health organization that owns St. John, has won a preferred position in the Independence health care market with the help of the KDHE and Independence officials. Unlike Kansas healthcare providers, who are required to provide emergency services in order to keep their hospital licenses, the KDHE agreement allows Ascension/St. John to forgo investing in such services while still receiving the higher “provider-based” reimbursement rate for imaging services rendered in the state. Not only would this arrangement appear to give Ascension/St. John a distinct competitive advantage over smaller Kansas providers, but it also is inconsistent with public policy that “provider-based” billing is designed to “offset to cost of emergency room expenses.”
Further, Independence city officials gave Ascension/St. John the opportunity to set up shop at the former Mercy Hospital, even though Ascension/St. John refused to provide local emergency services and precluded the City from financially supporting such services in Independence.
Meanwhile, city officials are suggesting that Independence residents in need of emergency care should go to the Bartlesville’s Jane Phillips Center—owned by St. John, which in turn is owned by Ascension.
Whether these health care outcomes and the procedures and policies that led to them serve the public interest is a matter for the citizens of Independence and Kansans generally to decide.

• Max Kautsch is a Lawrence-based attorney for the Independence citizen group Seeking Responsible Spending, LLC. However, this article was not prepared on behalf of or with direction from any client, nor the Montgomery County Chronicle. The views expressed are those of the author.

1 Joplin Regional Business Journal, “Mercy Announces Closure of Hospital in Independence, Kansas,” September 4, 2015.
2 The New York Times, “Closing a hospital, and fearing for the future,” October 8, 2015.
3 Montgomery County Chronicle, “Hospital merger discussions cease,” September 2, 2015,
4 Id.; Montgomery County Chronicle, “CRMC agrees to buy Mercy Hospital of Independence,” July 16, 2015,
5 Montgomery County Chronicle, “Emergency department proposed,” December 9, 2015.
7 Montgomery County Chronicle, “City reps, medical providers continue closed-door talks,” October 29, 2015; Winfield Courier, “Independence Hospital Closing for Many Reasons,” November 20, 2015.
8 Minutes of the Independence City Commission’s December 17, 2015; see generally K.S.A. 75-4301a et seq.
9 See generally K.S.A. 75-4301a et seq. See also Independence Daily Reporter, “Mayor speaks on Mercy vote,” May 22, 2016.
10 The Independence Reporter, “Commissioners discuss demolition of Mercy buildings,” January 15, 2016.
11 Montgomery County Chronicle, “Labette Health unveils expansion plan,” March 3, 2016.
12 Id.
13 Transcript, Labette County Health v. KDHE, June 16, 2016.
16 Memorandum in Support of Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed May 11, 2016; see generally Healthcare Strategy Group, “Provider-based billing: advantages and obstacles,” August, 2015; 42 CFR 413.65.
17 Id; 902 KAR 20:016, Hospitals; operations and services.
18 Exhibit A, Memorandum in Support of Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed May 11, 2016.
19 KDHE Response in Opposition, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed June 14, 2016.
20 Memorandum Decision and Order, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed June 27, 2016.
21 The New York Times, “Closing a hospital, and fearing for the future,” October 8, 2015.
23 Winfield Courier, “Independence Hospital Closing for Many Reasons,” November 20, 2015; see also Transcript, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, June 16, 2016.
24 Montgomery County Chronicle, “Hospital merger discussions cease” September 2, 2015; Montgomery County Chronicle, “CRMC agrees to buy Mercy Hospital of Independence,” July 16, 2015.
25 Id.
26 Montgomery County Chronicle, “CRMC agrees to buy Mercy Hospital of Independence,” July 16, 2015.
27 Id.
28 Montgomery County Chronicle, “Committee to represent City of Independence in hospital merger talks,” July 6, 2015.
29 Montgomery County Chronicle, “CRMC agrees to buy Mercy Hospital of Independence,” July 16, 2015.
30 Id.
31 Montgomery County Chronicle, “City reps, medical providers continue closed-door talks,” October 29, 2015.
32 Montgomery County Chronicle, “Hospital merger discussions cease,” September 2, 2015.
33 Id.
34 Id.
35 KTUL Tulsa, “Mercy Announces Closure of Kansas Facility,” September 3, 2015.
36 The New York Times, “Closing a hospital, and fearing for the future,” October 8, 2015.
37 Id.
38 Montgomery County Chronicle, “Independence City Commission Rejects St. John proposal, open future talks to area medical providers,” October 30, 2015.
39 Id.
40 Id.
41 Minutes of the Independence City Commission’s special meeting, October 5, 2015.
42 Montgomery County Chronicle, “City reps, medical providers continue closed-door talks,” October 29, 2015.
44 Montgomery County Chronicle, “Independence City Commission Rejects St. John proposal, open future talks to area medical providers,” October 30, 2015.
45 Montgomery County Chronicle, “Emergency department proposed,” December 9, 2015.
46 Minutes of the Independence City Commission’s special meetings, October 21, October 27, 2015.
47 Montgomery County Chronicle, “City reps, medical providers continue closed-door talks,” October 29, 2015.
48 Transcript, Labette County Health v. KDHE, June 16, 2016.
49 Montgomery County Chronicle, October 29, 2015, “City reps, medical providers continue closed-door talks.”
50 Id.
51 Montgomery County Chronicle, “Independence City Commission Rejects St. John proposal, open future talks to area medical providers,” October 30, 2015.
52 Id.
53 Id.
54 Id.
55 Id.
56 Winfield Courier, “Independence Hospital Closing for Many Reasons,” November 20, 2015.
57 “Letter of Intent and Terms Sheet” from Mercy to the City of Independence (December 4, 2015).
58 Id.
59 See, e.g., Quit Claim Deed, December 21, 2015, from Mercy Kansas Communities, Inc., to the City of Independence, Lots 4, 5 and 6, Block 6, CONCANNONS ADDITION.
60 Id.; see also The Independence Reporter, “Commissioners discuss demolition of Mercy buildings,” January 15, 2016.
61 Independence Daily Reporter, “Mayor speaks on Mercy vote,” May 22, 2016.
62 Minutes of the Independence City Commission’s December 17, 2015; see generally K.S.A. 75-4301a et seq.
64 Letter from Jeffrey A. Chubb, Independence City Attorney, to Athena E. Andaya, Deputy Attorney General (December 16, 2015).
66 Letter from Jeffrey A. Chubb, Independence City Attorney, to Athena E. Andaya, Deputy Attorney General (December 16, 2015).
67 Letter from Athena E. Andaya, Deputy Attorney General, to Jeffrey A. Chubb, Independence City Attorney (December 17, 2015).
68 K.S.A. 75-4304a(d)(2)
69 See, e.g., Quit Claim Deed, December 21, 2015, from Mercy Kansas Communities, Inc., to the City of Independence, Lots 4, 5 and 6, Block 6, CONCANNONS ADDITION.
70 Persimmon Hill First Homes Ass’n v. Lonsdale, 31 Kan.App.2d 889, 895 (2003).
71 Minutes of the Independence City Commission’s December 17, 2015; see generally K.S.A. 75-4301a et seq.
72 See, e.g., Quit Claim Deed, December 21, 2015, from Mercy Kansas Communities, Inc., to the City of Independence, Lots 4, 5 and 6, Block 6, CONCANNONS ADDITION.
73 Independence City Commission meeting, January 28, 2016, at the 51:06 mark of video available on City website.
74 Independence City Commission meeting, January 21, 2016, at the 57:52 mark of video available on City website.
75 Independence City Commission meeting, January 28, 2016, at the 52:13 mark of video available on City website.
76 Independence City Commission meeting, January 28, 2016, at the 51:20 mark of video available on City website.
77 Minutes of the Independence City Commission’s December 17, 2015 meeting, page 5.
78 Id.
79 Letter from Athena E. Andaya, Deputy Attorney General, to Jeffrey A. Chubb, Independence City Attorney (December 17, 2015).
80 The Independence Reporter, “Commissioners discuss demolition of Mercy buildings,” January 15, 2016.
81 K.S.A. 75-4306(a)
82 Montgomery County Chronicle, March 3, 2016, “Labette Health unveils expansion plan.” See also Transcript, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, June 16, 2016.
83 The Independence Reporter, “Commissioners discuss demolition of Mercy buildings,” January 15, 2016.
84 Id.; Agreement, January 14, 2016, between Mercy Health and City of Independence.
86 Memorandum in Support of Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, Exhibit A, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed May 11, 2016, Exhibit A.
87 Memorandum in Support of Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, Exhibit A, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed May 11, 2016.
88 Healthcare Strategy Group, “Provider-based billing: advantages and obstacles,” August, 2015; see also; Dunlay and Dowdell, Provider-Based Status, Under Arrangements, Enrollment and Related Medicare Requirements, p. 3; see also see also 42 CFR 413.65(a)(2).
89 Id.
90 Healthcare Strategy Group, “Provider-based billing: advantages and obstacles,” August, 2015.
91 Memorandum in Support of Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed May 11, 2016; see also Healthcare Strategy Group, “Provider-based billing: advantages and obstacles,” August, 2015.
92 Memorandum in Support of Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed May 11, 2016; 902 Kansas Administrative Regulations 20:016, Hospitals; operations and services.
93 KDHE Response in Opposition, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed June 14, 2016;
94 Memorandum Decision and Order, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed June 27, 2016.
95 Montgomery County Chronicle, March 3, 2016, “Labette Health unveils expansion plan”; Transcript, Labette County Health v. KDHE, June 16, 2016.
96 Memorandum in Support of Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed May 11, 2016, p. 11.
97 Reply Memorandum in Support, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed June 17, 2016, p. 3-4.
98 KDHE Response in Opposition, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed June 14, 2016, p. 3, ¶s 7 and 8.
99 KDHE Response in Opposition, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed June 14, 2016.
100 Id.
101 Id.
102 Memorandum Decision and Order, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed June 27, 2016, ¶ A.2.
103 Memorandum in Support of Motion for Temporary Restraining Order, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, filed May 11, 2016, p. 11.
104 Montgomery County Chronicle, “Labette Health unveils expansion plan,” March 3, 2016. See also Transcript, Labette County Health Center v. Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Shawnee County District Court Case No. 16 CV 353, June 16, 2016.

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CRMC seeks special election in April to consider continuation of local sales tax

CRMC seeks special election to consider continuation of 1/2-cent sales tax


COFFEYVILLE — At their semi-monthly meeting on Feb. 23, Coffeyville city commissioners are expected to discuss a request by the Coffeyville Regional Medical Center board of directors to have a special election in April to consider whether to retain a one-half percent sales tax.

The commission is expected to debate the request at their meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m., at the Senior Citizens Activity Center.

The commission does not decide whether to approve the sales tax; that decision will rest with local voters who, according to the CRMC board of directors’ request, will be asked on Tuesday, April 5 whether to continue a one-half percent sales tax.

Monte Coffman, CRMC board president, said the one-half percent sales tax would be a continuation of an existing sales tax that was approved by voters in 2001. That sales tax was used in the expansion of CRMC’s facilities and was scheduled to retire in 2022 or until the bonds that were issued in the expansion project were to be paid off. Through additional annual contributions by CRMC and refinancing of those bonds, the bonds are now scheduled to be paid off early, meaning in the summer of 2016. Therefore, the dedicated sales tax to the CRMC expansion project will retire in the summer of 2016.

Coffman said the proposed sales tax question on the April 5 ballot would ask residents to continue the one-half percent sales tax. However, this sales tax, if approved, would go toward CRMC’s healthcare and emergency services. CRMC is a municipal hospital, and any funding in the past has been devoted to physical improvements to the hospital facilities, such as the 2001 sales tax for the hospital expansion. Property tax revenue or any other tax revenue has not used by the City of Coffeyville to subsidize the hospital’s operations.

The continuation of the sales tax would be used to maintain healthcare and emergency services. Coffman said the financial state of rural healthcare makes it difficult for hospitals like CRMC to rely solely on Medicaid, Medicare and insurance reimbursements.

“As described in many news articles from across Kansas and the nation and shown by the recent closure of Mercy Hospital in Independence, these are challenging times for rural hospitals,” said Coffman. “Reimbursement rates for hospitals from Medicare and Medicaid have been drastically reduced. Like most rural hospitals, a large majority of CRMC’s patient base is on Medicare or Medicaid.

“CRMC is committed to providing the best healthcare for the citizens of Coffeyville and the surrounding area. A vibrant, independent hospital is an essential part Coffeyville’s future. CRMC is asking the citizens of Coffeyville to help us continue to meet the future healthcare needs of Coffeyville just as a group of citizens did in the 1940s when the hospital was established.”

Coffman said no Coffeyville city funds will be used for the special election on April 5. The expenses of the election will be borne by CRMC.

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Bumbling bandit, mortal mummy: Book details bizarre life (and after life) of former Cherryvale resident


A recently released book on the history of Kansas bank history brings to light the career of a former Cherryvale man whose bumbling career included an attempt heist — by means of nitroglycerine — of a Chautauqua County bank in 1911.

In December, author Rod Beemer of Minneapolis, Kan., released “Notorious Kansas Bank Heists: Gunslingers to Gangsters” through The History Press. The paperback book chronicles the history of early-day Kansas bank heists.

Among the events found in the book is the story of Elmer McCurdy. His life in and around southeast Kansas could have been the plot for a movie mystery. In fact, in the 21st century, the story of Elmer McCurdy does conjure occasional references on history documentaries about true crime.

Here’s the story . . .

Elmer McCurdy was born in Maine in 1880 but found his way to southeast Kansas in his early adult years as a plumber in Cherryvale. He later moved to Iola and relocated to Webb City, Mo. Along the way, a serious bout with alcoholism put him at odds with local constables.

To dry out from his persistent binge drinking, McCurdy joined the U.S. Army in 1907 and was stationed at Fort Leavenworth where, among his many aspects of training, he learned how to use nitroglycerine for demolition purposes.

After his discharge from the U.S. Army, McCurdy stumbled back to southeast Kansas and Oklahoma Kansas where he began a short-lived career as a bank robber. His first attempt as a yegg was in Lenapah, Okla., in March 1911 when he and three other men decided to rob the Iron Mountain-Missouri Pacific train. McCurdy heard that one of the cars contained a safe holding $4,000 in currency.

The robbers successfully stopped the train and found the safe. McCurdy attempted to put his nitroglycerin knowledge — paid for by Uncle Sam — to work by blasting open the safe door.

However, McCurdy mismeasured the nitorglycerne . . . by putting too much nitro in the charge. Not only did the blast blow open the safe door but it destroyed the safe entirely . . . and all $4,000 in currency.

They did manage to pocket about $450 in silver coins . . . however most of the coins were welded together from the fierce heat caused by the nitroglycerine explosion. Most of the coins were fused to the safe’s frame.

Thinking that he learned from his failed train robbery, McCurdy attempted a bigger haul with less nitroglycerine in his pocket. This time it was in Chautauqua, Kan, in September 1911. McCurdy and two other men spent two hours attempting to break through the bank wall of the Citizens Bank in Chautauqua. Once inside the bank, they attempt to blast the door to the bank’s vault.

McCurdy once again attempted a nitro blast that, if successful, would have put him inside that vault. He believed he could have been like a kid in a candy store — easy pickings with delicious temptations.

However, McCurdy’s nitroglycerine blast of the vault door proved costly. Not only did he mismeasure the amount of nitroglycerine (the explosion literally blew the vault door through the entire of the bank lobby, before coming to rest in an wall on the opposite side of the bank) but he miscalculated the vault itself.

For inside the vault was most of the bank stash — safely tucked way inside a steel safe.

McCurdy quickly tried to use a nitro blast to open the safe, but the charge failed to ignite. Knowing that the initial explosion likely awakened a sleepy town, McCurdy and Company grabbed as much money as they could inside the vault, which amounted to about $150 in coins.

Later that night, they found safe harbor at the ranch of friend Charlie Revard near Bartlesville. McCurdy and his accomplices split up with McCurdy staying on the ranch inside a hayseed. He drank heavily for several days, planning his next robbery in between flasts of whiskey.

His final robbery came on Oct. 4, 1911, near Okesa, Okla., which is southwest of Bartlesville in Osage County. McCurdy and two men heard that a Katy Train was bound for Pawhuska carrying the prized royalty payments for members of the Osage Nation. They made a plan and attacked a train near Okesa.

However, their robbery proved unsuccessful. Rather than rob a freight train carrying heavy loot, they mistakenly robbed a passenger train with little to no money on board. They were able to scamper away with $46, a couple of demijohns of whiskey, a revolver, a coat and the train conductor’s watch.

McCurdy was hurt by the haul and returned to the Revard ranch to pout and drink away his spoils.

He stayed up drinking with some of the ranch hands before falling into a deeper slumber in the hayloft.

Unbeknowst to McCurdy, the hayseed would be surrounded by a sheriff’s posse the next morning.

The posse surrounded the structure until McCurdy awakened with a massive hangover. The posse’s audible call for McCurdy’s arrest was met McCurdy’s firearms. What ensured was an hour-long shootout between McCurdy and the posse.

Finally, one shotgun blast from the posse ended McCurdy’s life. He died outside the hayshed — a criminal who had little prize in his quest for fortunes.

However, his greatest fame was yet to come.

McCurdy’s body was eventually taken to the Johnson Funeral Home in Pawhuska, Okla., where it was embalmed using an arsenic-based preservative that was typical in that era of body preparation. No family members claimed McCurdy’s body, and the corpse remained in the funeral home — unclaimed yet preserved — for six months. Rather than release the body for burial and assume the costs himself, funeral parlor owner Joseph L. Johnson decided to make a profitable spectacle out of McCurdy. He propped McCurdy’s stiff body in a wicker coffin and placed it upright in the funeral parlor lobby. He even had a shotgun placed in McCurdy’s cold, dead hands. And, for a nickel, people could examine the corpse and even be photographed next to it.

McCurdy would remain a fixture in the Johnson Funeral Home until 1916 when it was collected by two men claiming to be long-lost brothers of McCurdy. They claimed the body and told others that McCurdy would be given a proper burial in California.

What Johnson and others did not know is the two men were nothing more than carnival barkers for a traveling circus.

So, Elmer McCurdy, more than five years dead and many times photographed, was now a traveling circus exhibit for the Great Patterson Carnival Show. McCurdy was touted as “the outlaw who would never be captured alive.”

The Patterson circus would change hands in 1922 when it was sold to Louis Sooney, who used McCurdy’s fame to create the Museum of Crime. Not only was McCurdy a chief attraction but so, too, were wax figures of Bill Doolin and Jesse James.

McCurdy’s body would become part of a sideshow for the Trans-American Footrace in 1928 before being loaned for a brief time by film director Dwain Esper to promote his film “Narcotic.” The corpse was placed in movie theatre lobbies as a “dead dope fiend” whom, Elmer claimed, had killed himself while surrounded by police after he had robbed a drug store to support his habit.

By this time, Elmer McCurdy’s dead body had shriveled and hardened. His frame had reduced to the size of a child. Esper claimed that McCurdy’s skin condition and small frame were the result of his continual drug habit.

After Sooney died in 1949, the corpse was placed in storage in a Los Angeles, Calif., warehouse. It was later found and used as a movie prop and in a traveling wax museum. However, the years of travel had left McCurdy’s stiffened body into a state of woeful deterioration. By the 1970s, McCurdy’s ears had fallen off and his fingers and toes had disintegrated. Not wanting to rid him of a circus show and possible movie prop, McCurdy’s new owner, Spoony Singh had McCurdy’s disintegrating body painted with wax. Appendages were replaced with balsa wood, and once-wrinkled features were filled with putty.

Singh then sold the corpse to Ed Liersch, owner of The Pike, an amusement park in Long Beach, Calif., who used it as a prop — McCurdy was viewed hanging from a hangman’s noose — in the Laff in the Dark funhouse exhibit. His body was painted with several coats of glow-in-the-dark neon paint.

McCurdy’s identity had been long forgotten by the time the his body was used painted and puttied. And, when the amusement park closed its doors for good in the mid-1970s, the life of Elmer McCurdy — then hanging from a rope in a darkened amusement park — was left to the ages.

Or, so it seemed.

When the dead amusement park was purchased by Universal Studios, prop crews found a prime location for shooting an episode of “The Six Million Dollar Man” starring Lee Majors. The former Laff In the Dark funhouse, featuring what prop crews thought was a mannequin hanging from a noose, would make an excellent scene for a television episode.

So, while getting the scene prepared for film shooting of “The Six Million Dollar Man,” prop crews began dusting off the equipment from The Pike, including the mannequin hanging in the laffhouse.

When they grabbed the arms of the mannequin, aka Elmer McCurdy, one of the arms fell off, exposing bone and mummified tissue to the horror of the television crew, who obviously thought the mannequin was only a dummy and note a real mummy.

Law enforcement officers were contacted, and the life of Elmer McCurdy — who had been dead for more than 60 years — was starting to come back to the headlines.

A forensic pathologist was summoned to make a positive identification.

By December 1976, the story of mummified and petrified Elmer McCurdy was making national news. Rather than see McCurdy continue to be abused by traveling circuses and television prop crews, an Oklahoma organization procured McCurdy’s remains and vowed to give him a proper burial.

So, Elmer McCurdy, whose remains had shriveled to only 50 pounds, was on his way back to the very state where he died: Oklahoma. The Indian Territory Posse of Oklahoma Westerns paid for McCurdy’s funeral expenses. The organization buried McCurdy in the Boot Hill section of the Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie, Okla., on April 22, 1977. A graveside service attended by approximately 300 people saw McCurdy’s coffin lowered into a grave that was adjacent to another well-known Oklahoma outlaw, Bill Doolin, whose fate was similar to McCurdy: killed by a posse.

To ensure that McCurdy’s body would not be stolen, two feet of concrete was poured over McCurdy’s casket — a thick barrier that Elmer McCurdy would have loved to blast open with the help of nitroglycerine and insatiable desire for easy money.

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Christmas finally arrives for Coffeyville woman — 47 years after giving daughter to adoption


COFFEYVILLE — A Christmas tree has not adorned Mary Boyd’s house in 47 years.

Even if she had one, she did not have a family to celebrate it with her.

The thought of having a colorful, lively Christmas tree that beams with happiness, serves as a backdrop for photos that are shared with others, and echoes with the laughter and shrieks of delight from grandchildren . . . those are the cherished memories Mary Boyd has desired and prayed for.

But because of a series of painful situations that confronted Boyd when she was a young and abused mother in the late 1960s, Christmas has had no meaning.

“I would intentionally not decorate my house because I knew it would just be lonely and sad,” she said from her home in Coffeyville.

However, such sadness will not befall Mary Boyd’s house any further . . . especially in the weeks following the Christmas season. That’s because the great gift called Family reached her front door on Saturday in the form of a reunion of a child she gave up for adoption in 1969.

When Mary Boyd looked in the eyes of her daughter, Jodi Sykes, for the first time on Saturday afternoon, all the years of missed birthdays, the pain of quiet and cold Christmases, and her inability of spoiling grandkids vanished.

“I’m here,” said Jodi Sykes with open arms as she walked across the threshold of her mother’s house on Dakota Street.

And, with that, Mary Boyd and Jodi Sykes embraced tightly and sobbed . . . for three very long minutes.

* * * *

Mary Boyd’s journey as a young mother in the 1960s was filled with mountaintops and valleys.

But mostly valleys.

A resident in East St. Louis, Mo., Mary was pregnant and married by age 17. Teenage pregnancy in the early 1960s was a different time, when community norms relegated young mothers to near obscurity.

Her marriage to Forrest Robert Powell Sr., was a blur of constant abuse and strife. When they were first married, Forrest drove an ice cream truck. By 1968, Forrest and Mary (Boyd) Powell would be the parents of four children: three boys and one girl. They lived in Washington Park, Ill., during those years as the marriage crumbled. He lost his job as an ice cream truck driver and found himself hauling wrecked cars as a tow truck driver. She stayed at home to raise the family.

In 1968, Mary, who was pregnant with their fifth child, found herself as a single mother. Forrest had divorced Mary and, in the process, convinced state officials that she was an unfit mother. So, in the divorce process, the court awarded sole custody of the four Powell children to Forrest Powell.

That left Mary with the choice of raising her unborn child herself . . . or allowing the child to be adopted to another family. Mary chose the latter.

On a day that has literally been wiped away from Mary’s memory (“I can’t even tell you what day it was”), Mary gave birth to a baby girl in the St. Mary’s Hospital in St. Louis, Mo. Those were the days when a birth mother who chose to give up a newborn infant to adoption had no ability to see or touch that child. When the umbilical cord was severed, the act literally severed any connection between Mary Boyd and her daughter.

“I never even saw her . . . or got to hold her,” said Mary. “The nurses and doctor cut the cord, cleaned her up, and walked out the room with the baby in their arms.”

And, with that act of coldness, Mary Boyd was thrust into an incredibly painful period.

She was alone.

She reeled from a marriage that probably should not have happened. She no longer had any contact with her four children who, by the time she gave birth to her fifth child, were ages 2 through 6.

The fifth child simply vanished into an adoption system.

So, Mary Boyd tried to rebuild her life. She never remarried. And, she purposely shunned the Christmas season.

By 2004, after spending much of her adult years in Illinois and Missouri, she moved to Montgomery County to be close to her sister, Loretta Glasgow of Caney. Mary would live in Caney, Tyro and Coffeyville — working jobs in nursing homes and as an elder caregiver.

And, no day went by without Mary Boyd wondering what happened to her five children.

* * * *

While Mary Boyd spent many years wondering to the whereabouts of her children, a young Jodi Wells, who was living in southwestern Illinois, began a quest for her biological roots. While as a nosey teenager in the early 1980s, Jodi thumbed through some of her parents’ private belongings when she discovered a sealed bag containing an adoption certificate.

She read it.

And, after getting over the initial shock, she began to ask questions.

“I asked my mom and dad about the certificate, and that’s when they confirmed that I was adopted at birth,” said Jodi, recalling her adoption discovery when she was age 12. “All I knew of my birth parents was their names, when I was born (Jan. 20, 1969) and where I was born.”

That began Jodi’s quest to discover her biological roots. Just who were Forrest Robert Powell Jr. and Mary (Boyd) Powell? Did she have any brothers and sisters?

The many decades of questions and endless detective work began to bear fruit only in the past several months. An “adoption angel,” a person who is able to trace records in order birth parents and their biological children who are adopted to other families, was able to connect Jodi with a half sister, Brittany (Powell) Phillips, who was one of Forrest Powell’s children from a later marriage, living in Runnells, Iowa. Upon connecting with Brittany, Jodi learned that her biological father died in the 1990s. However, Jodi and Brittany had no information about Mary (Boyd) Powell . . . or even if Mary (Boyd) Powell went by the same name as she did in 1969.

Jodi even made a list — with data collected from online telephone directories — of persons named “Mary Boyd” in the United States. She even made cold calls to some of those numbers and wrote letters to others. Ninety-seven people named Mary Boyd were contacted. Each time she made a call or wrote a letter, she would not find the Mary Boyd whom she only knew as a name on an adoption certificate.

Leave it to the world of social media, specifically Facebook, to become the vehicle that would connect Jodi Sykes with her biological mother. Using a search engine on Facebook, Jodi Sykes was able to find Teresa McVey of Tyro. Teresa McVey listed a Mary Boyd as one of her Facebook friends. However, the Mary Boyd who was listed on McVey’s Friends list had not had any activity on her page in many months.

Teresa said she received a phone call from Brittany Powell last Tuesday.

“She asked me how I knew the Mary Boyd who was listed as a Facebook friend,” McVey said. “She asked me questions that only Mary’s personal friends would know. That’s when I knew immediately that I came across a person who knew something about one of Mary’s children.”

Teresa McVey has good reason to know much about Mary Boyd. Mary serves as the caregiver to Teresa’s elderly parents living near Tyro. Mary’s closeness to McVey and her parents made her a virtual family member in McVey’s life. Teresa also has been able to hear the stories of Boyd’s past.

“She has had an incredible journey throughout her life,” said McVey. “I can’t imagine what would go through a mother’s heart when she has lost all of her five children and had no way of knowing where they went.”

* * * *

Last Thursday, Teresa McVey surprised Mary Boyd by giving her a picture of an adult woman in her late 40s holding a grandbaby. That image was of Jodi Sykes — which marked the first time that Mary Boyd had ever seen a photograph of her youngest child.

“I couldn’t believe what Teresa was telling me,” Boyd said. “I just sat in my dining room chair looking at this photo and hearing for the first time that one of my children was looking for me.”

So, since learning of the whereabouts of her youngest daughter and learning that Jodi and her husband were planning a trip to Coffeyville last weekend for a reunion, Mary Boyd’s world has been a roller-coaster.

“This is all I’ve thought about since Teresa told me,” said Boyd. “I’ll even wake up at 1 o’clock in the morning and think about it. It’s just something incredibly overwhelming.”

On Saturday, the years of frustration and anguish came to an end for both Boyd and Sykes. Jodi Sykes, who now lives in Collinsville, Ill., re-entered Mary Boyd’s life 47 years to the very week that Mary gave birth to Jodi. Their tight embrace in Boyd’s living room was matched by the volume of tears that flowed liberally from their eyes and onto each other’s tear-stained shoulders.

“You are going home with me,” joked Jodi as she hugged her mom.

As the mother and daughter were able to dry their eyes and begin the process of building a relationship that has been separated by a 47-year void, they promised to try to find the other four children in the Powell family. Jodi said she hopes to find the whereabouts of her sister Rosemary and her three brothers: Michael Casey Powell, James Preston Pope Powell and Forrest Robert Powell Jr.

For now, Mary’s life that has been a broken puzzle is slowing being pieced together, one person at a time.

“In my wildest dreams, I thought it would be one of my boys who would come looking for me, but I never thought it would be the youngest daughter who I never knew,” she said. “I’m just glad to have my baby back.”

Sykes said she plans on making numerous trips to Coffeyville — and bringing her own four children and 10 grandchildren to get to know their new grandmother and great-grandmother in the Sunflower State.

Mary has already received one note from a grandchild via Facebook, a note that indicated Mary would be widely accepted and loved in her newly-found family.

And, what about the years that time has painfully put on hold?

One of the first things that Mary Boyd told her daughter on Saturday was that she has not decorated a Christmas tree in more than 47 years.

With that painful confession that came from her mother’s lips, Jodi Sykes could only look at her mother’s teary eyes, listen to Mary’s quivering voice, and whisper a long, exasperating, “Wow,” as she shook her head in equally matched pain.

They then cried again . . . and hugged for a very long time.

Christmas may have finally arrived.

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Deadline to file as candidate for Caney City Council is Jan. 26

Caney city voters will go to the polls in the spring months to decide four positions for the Caney City Council.

The deadline to file for candidacy for those four positions is noon Tuesday, Jan. 26. The four positions that will be decided in the spring election cycle will be:

• Ward 1: position now held by council Nathan Byrd.

• Ward 2: position now held by councilor Ralph Anthony.

• Ward 3: position now held by councilor Dan Vernon.

• Ward 4: position now held by councilor Zoe Wahl.

If four or more candidates file any one of the four positions, then a run-off election will be required on Tuesday, March 1. The general election will be held on Tuesday, April 5 with the winning candidates assuming the oath of office at the second Caney City Council meeting in April.

Normally, all city council positions are two-year terms. However, the Kansas Legislature in 2015 approved a new law that moves all local elections (city council, school board, community college trustees) to the fall election cycle effective in 2017. That means the winning candidates in the spring election cycle — which will be the final spring elections in Caney due to the change in state law — will have to serve a longer- term in office as the council positions transition to a new election timeframe.

Persons interested in filing for the council elections should fill out the necessary paperwork at Caney City Hall.

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“I’ll Be Home For Christmas” — America returns home from war


It was deemed the largest military movement in the history of the world.

Yet a single bullet was never fired. No bombs were dropped. And, a peace treaty was not needed.

It was the homecoming of the U.S. troops from Europe and the Pacific Theatre following the conclusion of World War II. Under President Harry Truman’s wish, all U.S. servicemen and servicewomen whose term of duty was set to expire would return to the U.S. mainland in time for Christmas 1945.

What better Christmas gift to give to the victorious United States than to bring home the men and women who had been embroiled in a global fight since December 7, 1941?

However, getting the more than 3 million soldiers, sailors and airmen back to the continental United States would prove to be a logistical nightmare that tested every mode of transportation and every military commander’s wisdom to the fullest extent. The defeat of tyranny and fascism in two hemispheres over the span of almost four years was one thing; the movement of those heroic veterans to their native shores in the span of two short months was quite another.

That’s why the homecoming ceremonies that took place across the nation 70 years ago this week were the culmination of the largest movement of military personnel ever known. The end result? Millions of families were reunited with their sons and daughters under the crisp Christmas air . . . while tens of thousands of others mourned silently and quietly as they dealt with the loss of their loved ones.

Many others would be caught in the snarl of trains, buses, and cabs across the nation in the final two weeks of Christmas 1945 — 70 years ago.

By the time autumn colors had reached the United States in late 1945, the smoke had literally cleared from both sides of the world.

A bombed-out European continent was starting to rebuild . . . while also coming to realize the shameful atrocities committed by Hitler’s Third Reich.

In the Pacific, weary U.S. sailors who were accustomed to island hopping were now mopping up the carnage of the Japanese empire — incinerated by two atomic bombs that forever scorched the Land of the Rising Sun.

In leading a triumphant United States in its victories over the Axis powers, President Harry Truman held true to his goal to return servicemen and servicewomen to the United States for Christmas. Such a measure required a massive military endeavor. It was called Operation Santa Claus and Operation Magic Carpet — a mass movement of military personnel whose collective compasses were pointing toward the U.S. ports.

In his 2010 book “Christmas 1945,” Matthew Litt wrote about the Army and Navy’s valiant attempt to rush men and women to the U.S. shores — and ultimately to their families — before Christmas. On the weekend that began on Saturday, Dec. 22, there were 200,000 servicemen who made it back to the United States soil but had yet to reach their homes and families. Some 150,000 of those servicemen were holed up on U.S. ports on the West Coast. Likewise, 50,000 troops were in the East Coast ports.

Rail lines were inundated with requests to get troops to mainland bases for the eventual discharge of the soldiers and sailors. Bus services were overwhelmed. Telegram and postal services had to operate with additional help to handle the sheer avalanche of messages.

To compound the influx of servicemen and servicewomen, Mother Nature flexed her muscle by delivering snow storms through much of the nation, thereby bringing the movement of traffic to a near standstill.
“By Sunday afternoon, December 23rd, it had become clear to the nation’s port cities that they would become temporary homes to thousands of servicemen and servicewomen unable to make it to their destinations,” wrote Litt.

To those transportation services that were able to move the troops, the sheer volume of passengers in uniform was overwhelming.

“Three of four travelers were active service people on furlough, or fully separated veterans,” wrote Litt. “Airlines, railroads and bus companies pressed additional trains, buses and planes into service, but their action failed to alleviate the jams.”

So, for many service personnel, a Christmas homecoming was either held in the comforts of their family homes . . . or found in the waiting rooms of bus stations and train depots across the nation.

Burle Neely, who has lived in Coffeyville since 1948, knows well the feeling of euphoria when returning home from war. When he was discharged as a tech sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Corps in December 1945, he had his fill of the military lifestyle — and the perils of warfare.

Neely was one of four mechanical crewmen who flew aboard C-46 and C-47 cargo airplanes for the U.S. Army Air Corps in the China-India-Burma theatre.

“We flew the ‘Hump’,” Neely said this week. “That was a nickname for the Himalayan Mountains. The best maps we had at that time showed the mountains at about 5,000 feet. They were actually 20,000 feet. So, our airplanes had to fly through the mountains. We never flew over them.”
As a low-ranking crewman, Neely never had advanced knowledge of their missions. Nor did he know the destination of those missions. In many cases, he never knew where the cargo planes were going — or even where they were going to land.

“I just took my seat in the cargo area and didn’t ask questions,” said Neely. “My job was to worry about the aircraft itself. We made sure it could fly. The destination was the pilot’s concern, not mine.”

When the war ended in the Pacific in August 1945, Neely made the jaunt back to U.S. bases in the Pacific. Hopes were high that he could make a flight to the U.S. mainland. However, plans changed, and he joined a troop ship that made the slow trek from Japan to San Francisco in 19 days.

“Once we got back to the U.S. mainland, we took a troop train to Fort Logan in Colorado,” he said. “I was discharged on December 15, 1945, and I got home to my parents’ farm near Edna on December 16, 1945. I got home the day after my dad’s birthday. So, my family was in the middle of celebrating it. When I arrived, we celebrated some more. Then, Christmas came the next week. And, we celebrated. In all, I think my family celebrated for about six weeks. There was nothing like it.”

Direct communication in late 1945 focused on postcards, letters, and telegrams. Telephone calls were still a novelty item, especially in rural Labette County, where the Neely family phone was part of a rural line that was unreliable.

“I remember postcards were a penny, and a first-class letter was 3 cents,” he said.

“When we got back to our home base in Colorado, we were allowed one free phone call. My parents got my notes in the mail that I would be coming home before Christmas. So, they were expecting me.”

Seventy years later, tears still stream down the wrinkled face of Burle Neely in recalling his homecoming experience. Neely is symbolic of the millions of soldiers and sailors who put in their time to fight tyranny and fascism. They returned to the United States as heroic victors — albeit battle scared and hardened. They married, raised families, worked hard and quietly, and asked for little — except to live in a country that proved it could respond to when the rest of the world faced imminent danger.

For Neely, a stint in the United States Army Air Corps was followed by a career with the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company.

“When I see what we went through during the war and seeing what our country is facing today, I think it would do us some good if our young men and women had to provide one year of military service after high school,” he said. “I think we would be a stronger nation as a result.”

* * * *

In Caney, seven brothers gathered around the family table, prayed for blessings, and then engorged themselves on homemade fare. They were the Kannard brothers — seven of whom who had served in the U.S. military and had made it back it their parents’ home in time for the Christmas meal.

In Litt’s “Christmas 1945” book, the author writes that the Kannard gathering was one of the more unusual homecomings in the United States because all seven brothers survived the war . . . and made it back to Caney in time to celebrate Christmas.

The seven Kannard brothers in the U.S. military were Captain Verle, Staff Sergeants Kenneth, Donald, Leslie and Richard, Private First Class Robert, and Technician Fifth Grade Glen.

Likely bumping into her uncles around that crowded table was Karen Taylor, a niece of the seven brothers who still resides in Caney. Taylor was only age 4 at the time of that Kannard brothers’ reunion and has no memories of it — other than it was an occasion that her family would talk about for many years.

“I was much too young to remember it, but I know my family talked about my uncles’ service to their country,” she said. “It seemed unusual because seven brothers who joined the service.”

* * * *

Charles Harrington of Coffeyville knew of no other town than his native South Coffeyville when he joined the U.S. Army. Imagine his shock when Harrington, upon joining the military, found himself amid total strangers — albeit fellow Army soldiers — in England and later in France and Germany.
“When the war was over, I wanted desperately to come back home,” he said. “I sustained a non-combat injury when the truck I was on in France went off the side of a road because someone cut us off on a road. I got thrown off the truck. So, I was able to take a troop ship back to New York City.

“However, some of the people aboard the ship were the first U.S. prisoners of war to be released. They obviously got the first-class treatment. While playing cards with some of my buddies on that troop ship, I looked across the room and saw another of my South Coffeyville friends, Grayson Davis. He had been a prisoner of war in a German camp. Think of it: I didn’t know a soul in Europe, got on the ship with thousands of other soldiers for a voyage home, and there was someone from my hometown of South Coffeyville sitting right across from me.”

Elder years have taken a toll on some of Harrington’s memories of his return home to Kansas.

However, he recalls fondly the joyous thrill of returning to the United States.

“The military packed those troop ships full of goodies,” he said. “We could go to the ship canteen and get anything we wanted: pop, ice cream, candy bars, magazines . . . just everything. We had been fighting on European soil for so many months that we simply took advantage of every piece of candy and bottle of soda pop. It was a thrill.”

* * * *

Ethan Temple of Independence was among the several million GIs in Europe who were battle weary and hungry by fall 1945. Already having experienced the end of European conflict in April 1945, GIs like Temple were awaiting their orders to return to the United States in the fall.

For Staff Sgt. Ethan Temple, it meant going home to his hometown of Marion, Ohio.

“I honestly don’t recall much about the trip home except I was able to get home right before Christmas,” said Temple, who spent most of his adulthood in Independence. “I do remember mustered out of service in Indian Point, Pennsylvania.”

While many soldiers and sailors were able to enjoy Christmas 1945 in the warmth of their hometowns, other servicemen were stuck in train depots, bus stations or even on troop ships.

Such was the case of R.J. Osborn of Independence, whose return home was delayed until March. An ensign in the U.S. Navy, Osborn was stuck outside of San Francisco aboard a troop ship, awaiting his final discharge.

“We were down to eating our K rations,” said Osborn, laughing at the memory of the sailors munching on canned food for sustenance.

Osborn didn’t climb out of the ship until March 1946, long after much of the fanfare and welcome home celebrations had ended just several months prior.

Bud Baden of Independence also recalls a belated homecoming in his hometown. A member of the U.S. Army Air Corps in the Pacific Theatre, Baden was a sergeant on an air-sea rescue team that was responsible for fishing out downed pilots and their crews in the shark-infested waters of the Pacific.

However, when the war officially ended in September 1945, he thought his career in the military had finally come to an end.

It did not.

Baden and his fellow Army Air Corps servicemen took up quarters at the Atsugi Air Base in Japan. Their dormitory was formerly occupied by Japanese aviation trainees.

However, on their first days inside the dormitory, fire consumed the facility, destroying everything that belonged to Baden and his fellow servicemen.

“We lost everything except what we had on our backs,” he said. “So, we had to rebuild our lives, which meant rebuilding our documentation and records. That took quite a bit of time, because our discharge was based on how long we had served. So, we were among the last to come home. I personally didn’t get home until January 1946.”

Baden said he recalls docking in Tacoma, Wash., staying three days on a ship but getting daily passes to see Tacoma. He was shipped by train to Colorado, where he was mustered out of service at Fort Logan.

“We then took the train to Kansas City and stopped at Union Station,” he said. “I was a kid from a small town in Kansas. That Union Station appeared to me like a massive structure. It was something to behold.”

Euary Smith of Coffeyville was another war veteran whose Christmas 1945 experience was spent aboard a ship anchored in a foreign harbor.

Smith was a helmsman for a landing craft ship, known as an LCS, for the U.S. Navy in the Pacific. He was a late comer to the war, having served in the military for the final two years of the war. That meant he was going to have to fulfill his minimum time requirement for Uncle Sam, thereby forcing him to spend Christmas away from his home.

Home was Checotah, Okla., and Smith would not see his hometown until May 1946.

“I spent Christmas 1945 anchored in a harbor in Sasebo, Japan,” remembered Smith. “We were able to get passes to go ashore, but I think we spent much of it on the ship.”

Smith had to spend several months aboard naval ships while they made the agonizingly slow trek back to the U.S. mainland.

“I was on a LCS that traveled no faster than 16 knots,” he said. “So, it took two months and one day to get from Japan to San Francisco. Of course, we stopped at every island between Japan and California, including three days in Hawaii.”

Once anchored outside Los Angeles, Smith was depressed to find out that his ship would have to take another route home — via Portland, Oregon.

“We went up the coast and eventually caught a train from Portland to Oklahoma City,” said Smith. “From there, I was able to get home by May 1946.”

In Montgomery County, the first peacetime Christmas since 1940 proved to be a boom for local businesses.

And, by the appearances of the advertisements that appeared in local newspapers, it appeared that vehicle tires were at the top of everyone’s Christmas list.

The Cherryvale Daily Republican of December 1945 shows numerous advertisements for tires — a luxury item by 1945 as several years of rationed rubber forced residents to patch older tires, drive on bald ones, or do away with them entirely.

An Otasco store in Cherryvale had a large supply of tires available for the Christmas season, and local gasoline stations filled the Daily Republican with ads promoting available tires.

In Independence, the Independence Army Air Field was at a near standstill. Training for fighter pilots had all but ended. And, the air field hosted its final public “field day” in early December to showcase the last remaining warbirds to the public. This include B-24 and B-17 bombers, and the P-59 fighter and the P-61 night fighter. AT-6 and C-47 airplanes also were on display. So many surplus airplanes were on display that they stretched from wing tip to wing tip and filled the entire tarmac and runway, according to newspaper accounts.

The airplanes would eventually be scrapped — and the air field itself would become the present-day Independence Airport.

In Coffeyville, local officials were clamoring to adjust to the surge of war veterans to the community. In mid-December, officials stated that the community needed as many as 300 new houses over the course of 1946 to accommodate the veteran influx.

The problem confronting Coffeyville was a lack of building materials — most of which had been speedily provided to the war effort from 1941 through 1945.

And, in Caney, the editor of the local newspaper, H.K. “Skeet” George, provided daily coverage of the homecoming celebrations befalling numerous homes across the community. “Our Boys” was a daily column on page 1 of each four-page edition of the Caney Daily Chronicle. “Our Boys” contained stories of servicemen and servicewomen who were either home on honorable discharge or making a brief stop for the holidays.

On Dec. 24, 1945, George wrote an editorial that talked about the spirit of a peaceful Christmas — something that the United States had not experienced since 1940. In many other countries, war and hostility had ravaged an entire generation of the human race, making Christmas 1945 a rare moment in modern civilization whereby the world’s citizenry could peacefully coexist — albeit amid rubble and ruin.

The continental United States was fortunate to have been spared the catastrophe of war, George said. However, the country literally sacrificed its youngest and bravest men to take the cause of universal freedom, he said.

That’s why Christmas Eve 1945 proved to be such a strong time for mankind, he wrote. George wrote, “The spirit of Christmas has a strong hold upon the human race — a hold that seemingly becomes stronger as the years go by. No other event as the birth of Christ is so universally celebrated, no other holiday is looked forward to with the mingled feeling of reverence and exuberance as is Christmas.

“Christianity has its scoffers today as it had through the ages — weak, frail human beings who blossom, perhaps, for a day to cast ridicule and mockery, only to sink forgotten into the dust. But Christianity, and the spirit of Christmas, lives on and on, as only divine things can.

“Most of us come far short of reaching into sublime heights of Christian living that is possible if only we would follow the simple teachings of the One whose birth we celebrate tomorrow. But we do know that His teachings and the example He set during his 33 years upon earth have caused many millions of people to try to be better men and women, and have brought hope and comfort to a world that today certainly would be in blackest agony were it not for the spirit He has instilled into the hearts of man.

“True, Christmas is desecrated by commercialism and wickedness. But equally true is the fact that most deeds of human kindness are done during the Christmas season than at any other time. The joy that reigned on the day of Christ’s birth still prevails. In millions of homes throughout the world, it is multiplied joy this year, because loved ones who have faced death on the field of battle are home . . . and peace reigns supreme for the first time in many years.”

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City of Independence accepts donation of hospital property, inks letter of intent with St. John Health System


INDEPENDENCE — The now-vacant Mercy Hospital will be owned by Independence city taxpayers and be the eventual home to a new Independence City Hall under a plan that was approved by a split city commission on Thursday.

Commissioners Gary Hogsett and Fred Meier voted in favor of accepting the donation of the hospital property from Mercy Hospital; Mayor Leonhard Caflisch voted against it.

On a separate vote, but with the same result, the commission also agreed to sign a letter of intent with St. John Health System, which operates Jane Phillips Medical Center in Bartlesville. St. John will lease 10,000 square feet of the hospital from the City of Independence as part of the retention of imaging and radiology services within the hospital building. The imaging services include x-rays, MRI and CT equipment.

Two weeks ago, St. John announced it would assume some of Mercy’s services on Jan. 1, including operation of a primary care clinic, urgent care clinic, radiology and imaging services, Mercy Health For Life fitness center, and Mercy’s retail pharmacy. St. John officials have said in previous press statements that the Oklahoma-based medical provider envisions having an emergency department in Independence; however, St. John has no plans to operate an emergency department in the short term (after Jan. 1).

Meier and Hogsett said they favored the donation of the hospital property, noting that the retention of imaging and x-ray services in the former hospital was a pivotal part of St. John’s medical plans in Independence.

“I have received numerous phone calls from local citizens who say that a core part of our medical services has to be that imaging equipment,” said Meier. “There are people who don’t have the means to drive 30 miles away for testing.

“I see no reason not to do it (accept the donation).”

In late October, Hogsett joined Caflisch in voting against the City’s involvement with St. John’s medical service proposal, which called for taxpayer funds to subsidize St. John’s ledger sheet. However, Hogsett on Thursday revealed a different tune by not only voting in favor of accepting the hospital donation but calling out Caflisch for his previous vote.

“I would love to understand why you have been against this,” Hogsett said to Caflisch. “I have had people ask me, ‘Why is Mayor Caflisch against all of this.’ To me, it’s worthwhile.”

Caflisch, dealing with a case of laryngitis, took more than 15 minutes to present multiple reasons for his discomfort in accepting the hospital . . . and the plans developed by city manager Micky Webb to relocate city offices to the hospital property.

“The primary commitment in this proposal is for a city hall, not health care,” said Caflisch.

Caflisch, an architect by profession, said the plans to convert the bulk of the newer portion of Mercy Hospital into city offices would involve considerable expense on the part of city taxpayers — coming at a time when the community is experiencing a declining population and dwindling tax base.

The lack of a feasibility study to consider the costs and funding streams for the hospital’s conversion into a city office complex also left Caflisch extremely concerned. He said he had previously asked for information related to a feasibility study but was rebuffed by Webb and city staff.

“Last week, I heard the anticipated renovation costs would be about $6 million,” he said. “The next day, I heard it was going to be about $4 million. Somehow, the renovation costs declined by almost $2 million overnight. I don’t understand how that can happen.”

He also spoke about the size of the hospital building and how it would require perpetual funding to operate.

“From a perspective of space planning, the building is grossly oversized for what we need,” he said. “We’ll be paying maintenance larger than what we need.”

Caflisch did not dispute the need for improved office conditions, considering the age and deterioration of the existing Independence City Hall. However, the mayor argued that one-quarter sales tax devoted to municipal facility upgrades had not been fully utilized. And, discussions to make necessary repairs to the existing City Hall have not materialized.

The lack of information from city staff left Caflisch concerned not only about the donation of the hospital from Mercy but also the status of municipal facility repairs.

“If we don’t have the information, how can we make an educated decision,” Caflisch asked. “We have not had the information to justify the donation of a hospital building that I’m afraid we cannot afford.”

Following Caflisch’s presentation, Hogsett softened his tone, saying he understood many of the mayor’s arguments.

“There might not be the ideal solution,” Hogsett said. “We might be getting a building with a lot of white elephants.”

Prior to the commission’s decision, Hogsett opened the discussion to reveal the perceived conflict he has with the medical discussion. Hogsett’s wife is Dr. Anne Hogsett, who is an employee of Mercy Health System and will be joining the staff of Coffeyville Regional Medical Center in January. Questions have been raised in the Independence community as to Commissioner Hogsett’s conflict of interest in the matter, considering he was making a decision involving a company that provides employment to his wife.

However, city attorney Jeff Chubb said he had conferred about the question of Hogsett’s conflict of interest with the Kansas Attorney General’s Office. Chubb said he received a response one hour prior to Thursday’s meeting from the Attorney General, saying Hogsett could be allowed to vote on the matter.

Hogsett did.

Citizens speak

Commissioners heard from several local citizens about their views on the hospital donation.

Ernestine Farrice of Independence spoke against the proposal, saying the previous closed-door discussions and lack of transparency on the part of the commission had created “unearned mistrust.”

She criticized Mercy Health System for imposing confidentiality agreements that shielded discussions from the public. Mercy also kept other medical providers from entering the picture by limiting the potential suitors for Mercy’s services to a single Catholic medical charity: St. John Health System.

“We Americans have never given in to these kind of threats,” said Farrice. “Why should we start now?”

John Vermillion of Independence said he had problems with the commission’s plans to use $3 million in bonds a potential healthcare subsidy for the project. Those bonds have yet to be presented to the public for a vote.

“We should be protective of people’s money,” said Vermillion. “And, it should be done by a vote of the people. That’s what America is about. It’s not about a concentrated resolution of the commission.”

Lori Kelley, president of Equity Bank, spoke in favor of the hospital donation, saying it would spur healthcare activity that was sorely needed in Independence.

“By not having a healthcare decision made, we will frustrate the parties involved and they will eventually walk away in frustration,” said Kelley.

Charles Barker, a local pastor and member of the USD 446 Board of Education, said he preferred to have the commission accept the hospital so that imaging services can be retained. As a minister, Barker said he dealt regularly with people who do not have the transportation resources to have x-rays, tests or other services at medical centers 20 or 30 miles away.

“This is an opportunity to enter an agreement for people who have already lost many services,” said Barker.

Dean Hays of Independence also spoke in favor of having the hospital donated. He said the retention of the imaging service was vital for the community.

“As I understand it, if we don’t accept the hospital, then the hospital property will be demolished and became a vacant lot,” said Hays. “Let’s not let these services leave Independence.”

What is the specific plan for Mercy Health System’s donation of its hospital to the City of Independence?

• Mercy will donate the hospital building to the City of Independence. With its own money, Mercy will demolish the two oldest portions of the hospital, including the “round tower” portion and the 1920-era building.

• Mercy will provide the City of Independence with $500,000 to facilitate the City in its conversion of the hospital building.

• St. John Health System, through its Bartlesville-based provider Jane Phillips Medical Center, will lease about 10,000 square feet of space in the existing hospital for imaging and x-ray services. St. John Health System will lease the space for $100,000 per year. The utility and maintenance costs will be paid by the City of Independence.

• The St. John lease arrangement is for a five-year period, renewable for an additional five years before the conclusion of the first five-year period.

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Labette Health proposes emergency department for Independence


INDEPENDENCE — Parsons-based Labette Health on Monday officially proposed creation of a medical emergency department in Independence, with the City of Independence using $3 million in bonds to fund the construction or placement of that emergency department in the community.

The formal presentation of Labette Health’s proposal, which was held at a special meeting of the Independence City Commission on Monday, represents another change in the ever-evolving nature of medical coverage in the Independence community since the closure of Mercy Hospital.

No action was taken following a two and a half hour discussion between Labette Health officials and the city commission. However, commissioners said they would discuss the matter in depth at their next regularly scheduled meeting, which will be held at 5:30 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 10 in the Veterans Room at Memorial Hall.

Among the key highlights of Labette Health’s proposal:

• Labette Health would establish a non-profit association to “manage, govern, protect, preserve, establish, own, operate, and maintain its assets to provide emergency and other healthcare services” to the Independence region.

• The association would be governed by a seven-member board. Three of those members would be appointed by the Independence City Commission. Three others would be appointed by the board of Labette Health. The seventh member would be the chief executive officer of Labette Health, who would serve in an ex-officio position.

• The association’s emergency department in Independence would include a minimum of five emergency department treatment rooms, CT and x-ray imaging, laboratory, and any other equipment and resources that are conducive to the operations of an emergency department.

• Labette Health would extend its existing hospital license into the yet-to-be-named association so that proper and legal licensing could be guaranteed in the emergency department.

• The City of Independence would obligate its $3 million in bonds, previously discussed in other medical proposals, solely for the purpose to construct or place an emergency department on behalf of the association. The City of Independence would retain ownership of that facility while the operations would be leased to the association.

• Labette Health would obligate up to $500,000 in excess of the $3 million in city bonds for the project.

• Labette Health would fund all operational losses of the emergency department facility in excess of $500,000. That means the City of Independence, through the proposed non-profit association, would be obligated to guarantee no more than $500,000 per year for 15 years as a stop-gap measure to curtail operational losses. If that $500,000 ceiling limit is hit, then 100 percent of the financial risk shifts to Labette Health.

Brian Williams, Labette Health chief executive officer, emphasized that off-campus emergency departments typically are not “profit centers” for medical providers. In fact, most emergency departments, regardless of their ownership, tend to lose money. Why then would Labette Health propose an emergency department when prevailing business models show it to be a financial risk?

“Because I believe our staff knows we can do it,” said Williams confidently. “This (Independence) is our only market. We have to be successful in what we do because we do not have 130 other markets across the nation to tap into.”

Parsons-based Labette Health, like other medical providers in the region, is looking to tap into the Independence market as a way to boost traffic in its own medical center. However, Williams and other Labette Health officials said the reason they are pursuing an emergency department in Independence also has to do with the increased volume of emergency department traffic at the Parsons hospital ever since the closure of Mercy Hospital in early October.

Additionally, activity in Labette Health’s Independence primary care clinic and urgent care, located in a commercial office building at Sixth and Laurel streets, has increased tremendously — leading Williams to propose construction of a new clinic facility in Independence regardless the outcome of its emergency department proposal.

“My utmost concern is to construct a new clinic for Independence because our existing facility simply can’t hold the demand,” he said. “However, what I need to know from the city commission is if it wants to partner on creating an emergency department. If so, then that will make a difference in whether Labette Health seeks a one-acre tract for a new clinic or whether it needs more land to include a clinic, emergency department . . . and have room for additional growth.”

Commissioners had plenty of questions about the proposal, all of which was discussed openly in public session. Williams was joined by other Labette Health officials at the commission table to discuss the proposal and the City of Independence’s financial obligations.

Commissioner Fred Meier appeared reluctant to dedicate the City’s tax funds and limited debt capacity to a medical project that poses financial risks.

“It’s going to cost us money . . . a lot of money . . . down the road,” said Meier.

Meier also noted that other medical providers, namely St. John Health System, Coffeyville Regional Medical Center, and Mercy Hospital, have said that an off-campus emergency department could not be supported in Independence. He asked why those medical providers believe an emergency department cannot work while Labette Health believes it can.

“Can this proposal be successful?” Williams asked rhetorically. “I can’t give you a guarantee. But, we’re putting the full weight and force of Labette Health behind it.”

Williams said one of the provisions in the proposal allows a departure clause, where, after the third year of the emergency department, Labette Health and the association can chose to sever its relationship and revert the facility solely to a clinic and urgent care. The City of Independence would still own the facility. However, the financial risk would be reduced — if that would be the decision of the governing board.

However, if that provision is not enacted after the third year, then the emergency department would be required to remain open through the duration of the 15-year agreement, he said.

Mayor Leonhard Caflisch had concerns and questions about how the $3 million in bonds, which have not been officially issued, could be used for the project . . . and if those bonds would require voter approval before they are issued. He also asked attorney Tim Emert, who was present at Monday’s meeting in absence of city attorney Jeff Chubb, to explore how the bonds that have been discussed in earlier medical proposals, would differ for the Labette Health proposal.

Commissioner Gary Hogsett also had questions about the proposal, noting the costs associated with it. He hinted at appointing a citizen task force to explore the proposal. He also questioned the timeframe for creating an election in which city voters might have a say on how the bonds could be used.

However, Meier indicated a desire to move ahead on the discussion.

“I think we need to make a decision ourselves very soon — good, bad or ugly,” he said.

Commissioners agreed to discuss the matter at Thursday’s commission meeting.

Because discussion during the meeting revealed that the City of Independence would be responsible for erecting an emergency department on behalf of Labette Health and the unnamed association, it rules out consideration for using the now-closed Mercy Hospital as a site for that emergency department. The Independence City Commission two weeks ago voted to continue discussions with Mercy Health System for the donation of the now-closed hospital to the City of Independence. City officials have indicated the newer portions of the hospital could be converted into municipal offices, thereby replacing the nearly 100-year-old City Hall at Sixth and Myrtle streets. Mercy officials have indicated it would provide some funds to asset the City of Independence with that conversion, provided that the offices would not compete with St. John Health System, the Oklahoma-based medical provider that is assuming some of Mercy’s primary clinic and imaging services in Independence effective Jan. 1, 2016.

Other facets of the proposal that were discussed at Monday’s meeting:

• Dr. Melinda Allen, former emergency department director at Mercy Hospital, has been hired by Labette Health to coordinate the emergency department project in Independence.

• Labette Health, through its hospital in Parsons, is allied with Freeman Health System, which is based in Joplin, Mo. Freeman Health System is initiating a physician training program whereby 150 medical students would come to Freeman for further study and practicum not only in Joplin but also allied facilities in Parsons and perhaps Independence.

“This would be a great training ground for the hiring of new physicians,” said Williams.

Caflisch ‘embarrassed’ by legal maneuver pertaining to Labette Health’s proposal

At Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Leonhard Caflisch exclaimed embarrassment at a legal situation that raised its head in the minutes leading up to the meeting.

It’s still unclear what was at the core of the legal situation. However, Caflisch said city commissioners had received a letter from Topeka attorney Frankie Forbes, who represents the City of Independence in the healthcare discussions, advising the commission as to whether Labette Health’s proposal should be discussed openly or in executive session. While the letter was not disclosed during the meeting, Caflisch said Forbes advised that the proposal should be discussed openly because it does not fit within the privileges for an executive session, which is closed to the press and public. Forbes’ letter was presented to the commission immediately before it gaveled into session.

Previous commission meetings with all other medical providers had been held in executive session in order to protect the negotiations and confidential data of medical providers’ financial condition.

At Monday’s meeting, all details, including aspects of the usually-confidential Letter of Intent, were openly discussed.

“I am embarrassed,” said a red-faced Caflisch upon reading Forbes’ letter.

Attorney Tim Emert, who was filling in for city attorney Jeff Chubb, paused the meeting so he could confer privately with Caflisch and the legal counsel from Labette Health.

Once the commission learned that the negotiations, based upon Forbes’ recommendation, should be discussed openly, commissioners began a discussion but not before city manager Micky Webb placed his cellular telephone at the commission table.

“Is someone on the telephone?” Caflisch asked.

“Yes. Frankie Forbes is on the phone,” said Webb.

“Why is he even a part of this discussion in open session,” responded Caflisch.

“Okay, I’ll turn it off,” Webb said, after which he removed the telephone from the commission table.

Caflisch shook his head and appeared flustered at the situation.

Brian Williams, Labette Health chief executive officer, said it wasn’t customary to have negotiations discussed openly. However, in the spirit of transparency and openness, he was willing to air the negotiations openly.

“I’m not afraid to hang my laundry,” said Williams with a laugh. “I guess I’ll just hang it in the front yard instead of the back yard.”

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