Indy citizens describe feeling of ‘betrayal’ in City’s hospital conversion plans

(Editor’s note: Information about the City of Independence’s plans to convert a portion of Mercy Hospital into municipal offices were unveiled in the Nov. 26 issue of the Montgomery County Chronicle as well as in an earlier post on this website.)


INDEPENDENCE — “Betrayal” was a word frequently used by more than one dozen Independence residents who spoke at last Tuesday’s special Independence City Commission meeting in which plans for the City of Independence’s occupation of the now-closed Mercy Hospital were disclosed publicly for the first time.

Not only did residents protest plans by city staff to relocate existing city offices into the vacated hospital but many also openly sought the resignation of city manager Micky Webb.

At the end of the two-hour meeting, commissioners voted 2-1 to proceed with negotiations with Mercy Health System concerning the donation of Mercy Hospital to the City of Independence.

Commissioners Fred Meier and Gary Hogsett voted in favor of the motion while Mayor Leonhard Caflisch voted against the measure.

Following the meeting, Caflisch chose not to discuss his dissenting vote on the matter, saying he wished to have more time to digest the information that was presented at the meeting.

Commissioners made the decision after conferring with attorneys for 20 minutes in executive session, which is closed to the press and public. Mercy Health System had imposed a Nov. 30 deadline for the City of Independence to make a decision on whether to accept or reject the donation of the hospital property.

Should the City of Independence not continue its plans to acquire the hospital property, Mercy Hospital has indicated it would demolish the entire structure.

Prior to the vote and the numerous pleas and questions from local residents, commissioners heard an overview of the plans to convert a portion of Mercy Hospital into municipal offices. In addition to converting a portion of the hospital into city offices, city staff had devised a plan to erect a 19,000-square-foot addition to serve as vehicle bays for the City’s firetrucks, ambulance fleet, and other vital heavy equipment that require enclosed storage. That vehicle facility would be located where the older portions of the hospital, including the often-called “round tower” and the original hospital building now stand. Mercy Hospital has indicated it would demolish those two older portions of the hospital.

The estimated cost to remodel the hospital portion and erect the vehicle storage facility would be between $4.5 million to $5 million, said city manager Micky Webb. He added that the cost to erect a new municipal office complex would be between $8 million to $10 million.

Frustration was evident in the voices of the residents who spoke after Webb presented the plan overview. Architect Sean Clapp of Heckman & Associates also spoke for about 30 minutes about the conversion plans.

Phillip Oyler of Independence accused the city commission and city staff of “misleading the public in the last few weeks . . . not to get a healthcare facility but to get an office for city employees.”

Oyler suggested that the commission create a citizen advisory board that would be used to create a healthcare solution for Independence. He also suggested the development of a regional healthcare cooperative as a way generate sustainable medical activity in the Independence community.

Rusty Baker, fire chief, admitted that the hospital-turned-city office was “not the perfect fix” but would go far into rectifying the problems now experienced at the existing City Hall.

“The question is if you are going to spend the money to rectify
the things that you have going on in City Hall or if you are going to spend money on a hospital, then where will it do the most good,” said Baker. “That’s the decision you have to make.”

Baker also spoke about the problems of storing existing firetrucks outdoors because of the lack of space at the existing City Hall. He also said the height constraints of the existing firetruck bays at the City Hall require the City of Independence to special order new or pre-owned firetrucks with a shorter truck frame.

Debbie Miller of Independence provided the most pointed criticism of the conversion plans.

“Why does a community, with its overwhelming financial challenge need a gargantuan Taj Mahal City Hall?” she asked.

Miller also suggested why the commission or city staff had not considered the recommendations of a 2012 feasibility study that evaluated the existing space within City Hall.

Miller also directed criticism toward Webb, who she said sought a local architect to prepare the conversion plans without proper authorization from the city commission. Miller told the commission that Webb should be removed from his position.

Terry Hatfield, a retired Independence pastor, compared the loss of Mercy Hospital to the loss of a loved one. The grieving process after the loss of a loved one requires time to overcome. The commission should not rush through the grieving process with what appears to be a hastily-made plan for relocating City Hall to the former Mercy Hospital.

“In the same way you don’t rush a person with grief, you shouldn’t rush a community through grief,” said Hatfield. “What’s the rush? Why can’t we save it (the hospital) for further medical use?”

Hatfield also said he felt local residents have lost their collective confidence in the city commission and city staff with the release of the municipal office plan.

Don Moore of Independence said he felt “betrayed” when he heard the news of the plans to convert the hospital into city office.

“When I heard the news, there is something that went from my heart to the bottom of my feet,” said Moore. “Just in last month, we had a city manager that, in my mind, no doubt had a plan to make this happen.”

Moore said the commission’s top priority is to create a plan whereby the now-closed Mercy Hospital can be used by some other medical provider to provide healthcare for the community.

Moore also told commissioners that Webb should removed from his position.

Louis Ysusi of Independence said the lack of transparency on the part of city commissioners has lost the “trust and confidence of the people who elected you.”

“This idea to make city offices out of Mercy Hospital came out of nowhere,” he said. “And because all of this is discussed away from the public, it causes the public to question this process.”

Mayor Leonhard Caflisch did not provide many details of the process by which city staff prepare an architectural study concerning the conversion of Mercy Hospital into municipal offices. However, he said the situations that befell the commission where an ongoing set of circumstances stemming from Mercy Hospital’s closure in October.

“One year ago, we never thought in our wildest imaginations that we would be put in this situation that we now face,” Caflisch said of the absence of hospital care in the Independence community.

“The city manager has tried to present an idea of ‘what if’,” said Caflisch. “As a city commission, this is still a ‘what if’ option.”

With prodding from commissioner Fred Meier, Caflisch directed residents to keep their comments focused on the conversion plans while staying away from personnel matters and personalities — an obvious attempt to curtailing the public’s open criticism of Webb. That brought several jeers of “no, no, no” from the more than 100 people who packed into the Independence Civic Center to view the meeting.

Also at the meeting, attorney Tim Emert, who was present due to the absence of city attorney Jeff Chubb, nodded in head in affirmation when the commission was asked if Mercy Health System was stipulating how the former hospital could be used by the City of Independence. At the request of Emert, commissioners chose not discuss details of the negotiations publicly, saying they were bound by confidentiality agreements to prohibit the open discussion of their negotiations with Mercy Health System.

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UPDATE: City of Independence to negotiate donation of Mercy Hospital


Independence city commissioners on Tuesday night voted 2-1 to proceed with negotiations with Mercy Health System concerning the donation of Mercy Hospital to the City of Independence.

Commissioners Fred Meier and Gary Hogsett voted in favor of the motion while Mayor Leonhard Caflisch voted against the measure.

The commission’s decision came after commissioners heard pleas from more than one dozen citizens — most of whom spoke against the City of Independence’s plan to convert a portion of Mercy Hospital into municipal offices.

Commissioners made the decision after conferring with attorneys for 20 minutes in executive session, which is closed to the press and public.

Tuesday’s meeting was the first time the proposed hospital-turned-City Hall plan was discussed openly and publicly. Commissioners had to render a decision on Tuesday because Mercy Health System had imposed a deadline of Nov. 30 for the City to accept or reject the donation of the hospital property.

If the City of Independence had rejected the donation, then Mercy Hospital would have demolished the entire structure, said city manager Micky Webb.

Complete details of Tuesday’s meeting will be posted on this Facebook page and Montgomery County Chronicle website ( Because this week’s Chronicle (dated Nov. 26) was published just hours prior to Tuesday’s meeting, details of the meeting will not be contained in it.

Read a previous post to learn the City of Independence’s complete plan to transform a portion of Mercy Hospital into a municipal office complex.

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Mercy proposes to donate hospital to City of Indy


INDEPENDENCE — The Independence community’s conversation about the changing state of local healthcare shifted this week when city manager Micky Webb and Mercy Hospital interim chief executive officer Kim Day announced a proposal to convert a portion of Mercy Hospital into municipal offices.

The proposal calls for Mercy Hospital to donate the newest portions of Mercy Hospital, including the 1995 addition that contained the bulk of the hospital rooms, to the City of Independence. Mercy will be responsible for demolishing the two oldest portions of the hospital, including the often-called “round tower” portion. Upon the footprint of those demolished wings will be construction of a 19,000-square-foot addition that will be used to house the City of Independence’s fire and EMS vehicles as well as other vital heavy equipment used by the City.

If the Webb plan comes to fruition, then virtually all city services will be contained under one roof, thereby eliminating the need for the City of Independence to use its existing City Hall at 6th and Myrtle streets, EMS services office at 5th and Main streets and the public works buildings at 10th and Railroad streets. Webb said he could envision city offices relocating to the current hospital property by January 2017.

The Independence City Commission was expected to hear the issue at a special meeting Tuesday night. Because of the Montgomery County Chronicle’s press deadline mid-afternoon Tuesday, the details of the story could not be contained in this edition. However, the Chronicle will have an update via its Facebook page later Tuesday.

The proposal already has received an architect’s touch as Sean Clapp of Heckman & Associates has developed a preliminary set of schematic diagrams showing the transformation of the hospital area into municipal offices.

Clapp joined Day and Webb in giving a media tour of the proposed hospital-turned-municipal offices on Monday. Here is a brief breakdown of the proposed plans:

• the current emergency department entrance facing Laurel Street will be transformed into the main entrance for the new Independence City Hall. Upon entering the front entrance, City Hall visitors will be greeted by a dispatching center and a hallway that will lead to the municipal court clerk office, city commission chambers/court room and offices for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. Those offices will occupy the footprint of the hospital’s surgical wing and waiting room.

• the area that was used by Mercy for its emergency department will be leased to Jane Phillips Medical Center to use for its imaging and laboratory services. Jane Phillips Medical Center, through its parent company, St. John Health System, has plans to establish a primary care clinic on Mercy property. Because those plans call for Mercy to donate its existing imaging equipment to St. John and because that imaging equipment is currently contained within the Mercy property, it would be difficult to move that equipment to the Jane Phillips clinic offices.

The Jane Phillips Medical Center imaging and laboratory services would have a public entrance that faces now-closed 14th Street.

• The second floor of the hospital, which held its birth center, regular patient rooms, and intensive care unit, would be converted into city offices with minimal remodeling required, Clapp said.

Police offices would be housed in the former birth center while fire department dormitory rooms, training rooms, and living area would occupy the regular hospital rooms. The intensive care unit would be converted into administrative offices, including offices for the city manager, assistant city manager, city clerk, financial office, and customer service staff.

Other rooms on the second floor would be used by the city’s building inspector, Independence Housing Authority, public works director, and water plant operator.

The basement would largely be used for storage area for all municipal offices. However, a portion of the basement would be converted into a crime laboratory for the Independence Police Department. Home Town Health Services, which took over Mercy’s home health program, would occupy a space in the basement for office and equipment purposes.

The price tag

Preliminary estimates for converting the hospital areas into municipal offices would be about $4 million. Of that total cost, more than $2 million would be needed to construct the apparatus bays serving the EMS, fire and public works departments, Webb said.

The $4 million price tag does not include Mercy’s own costs to demolish the round tower and oldest portions of the hospital.
To pay for those remodeling costs, Webb has several funding sources that, he claims, could be used, including:

• the City of Independence’s application for a Community Development Block Grant, also known as a CDBG, which is administered through the Kansas Department of Commerce. The maximum amount awarded would be $400,000 with the City of Independence having to match that grant with $100,000.

• New Market Tax Credits, which is a federally-allowed tax incentive program, that is triggered when a rural health facility is maintained and used for health purposes. Because a portion of the hospital would be leased to Jane Phillips Medical Center for its imaging and laboratory services, hope exists that the City of Independence could capitalize on the availability of New Market Tax Credits, which are sold to investors for a return investment.

• possible other financial donations through Mercy Health System. Webb said he was in negotiation with Mercy to obtain more financial assistance in the conversion of the former hospital into city offices. No agreement has been officially reached about the measure or scope of those financial contributions, he said.

How did we get here?

Mercy Hospital closed its doors to admissions-based patients and the emergency department in early October. In the months before and after the hospital’s closure, Mercy attempted to strike a deal with several medical providers, including Coffeyville Regional Medical Center, St. John Health System and Labette Health, to occupy some aspect of the hospital building.

In late October, Mercy announced it would deal exclusively with St. John Health System, a fellow Catholic-based medical non-profit entity. However, St. John has no plans to run a hospital in Independence. Instead, it plans to operate a primary care clinic and urgent care in other buildings (St. John would still need to use Mercy’s existing imaging equipment, which, because of its size and bulk, will remain intact inside the former hospital).

That left Mercy with no other option but to consider giving the building to the City of Independence, Day said.

“It seems to be a natural fit,” Day said of the possible conversion of hospital space into municipal offices.

Should the Independence City Commission not agree to take possession of the hospital property, then Mercy will have no other option but to demolish the entire hospital structure, Day said.

“It’s not Mercy’s plan to board up the hospital and leave it as an eyesore for the community,” he said.

Mercy is operating under a tight deadline concerning the future use of the hospital. It can no longer provide the funds to heat and cool a nearly-vacant property. Day said Mercy’s chief officials gave him a Dec. 31 deadline to end all services and functions in Independence, including the use of the hospital building. Only a skeleton crew of Mercy employees remain in the former hospital building.

Before Mercy can demolish the round tower and older portion of the hospital, it has to remove and remediate asbestos now contained in those older portions of the hospital. That could take several months, he said. The goal is to have the asbestos removed and the older portions of the hospital gone by June 30, 2016.

Not only does Day have to contend with deadlines, he also has to make plans for the thousands of pieces of medical equipment and other furnishings within Mercy’s properties in Independence. Some of the equipment and furniture will be offered to the City of Independence to use in their municipal offices and services, Day said.

The need

Webb said the need for better municipal offices has never been made more obvious than in the past year. The existing City Hall, which has about 22,000 square feet of space at Myrtle and 6th streets, is no longer able to support most modern technology infrastructures. And, it suffers from outdated and neglected infrastructures, such as water, sewer and electrical systems.

Dormitory space for firefighters is unsafe, inefficient and not conducive to having separate sexes.

Firetrucks have to be ordered to a specific size because of the limited height in the existing firetruck bay.

A crime lab in the basement has a sink that drains directly onto the floor of an adjacent room.

“It’s long past time for us to do something about our existing city offices,” he said. “Not only are they inefficient, but we’ve concluded that the costs to remodel the existing City Hall would be cost prohibitive. It would take considerable amount of money — and a even more considerable disruption of our services — to remodel our offices.”

Building a new municipal complex would cost anywhere from $8 million to $10 million, he said.

As an architect, Clapp has studied City Hall thoroughly and noted that it had outlived its use.

“Any money we pour into the existing structure is like pouring money down the drain,” he said.

Webb said Day made the offer for the City to accept the hospital donation several weeks ago. It has been discussed by city staff and city commissioners in executive sessions, which are closed to the press and public, under the guide of “healthcare negotiations.”

Should City Hall relocate to Mercy Hospital, then there could be several options for City Hall, including making it available to prospective apartment developers or make it available to Montgomery County because of the building’s proximity to the Montgomery County Courthouse.

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Independence City Commission rejects St. John proposal, opens future talks to area medical providers


INDEPENDENCE — Healthcare coverage is now wide open for the Independence community after Independence city commissioners, in an agonizing 90 minute meeting on Friday, rejected a plan by a Tulsa-based health system to assume some of Mercy Hospital’s services in 2016.

The 2-1 decision to reject a three-year plan by St. John Health System was followed by the commission’s unanimous decision 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.

However, commissioners admitted that prospects would be slim that St. John Health System would be willing to entertain another proposal for Independence healthcare coverage.

Commissioners also emphasized they are fighting the clock because Mercy Hospital has previously indicated it would cease all clinics and services in Independence by Dec. 31. Mercy Hospital officials in early September indicated they would negotiate solely with St. John Health System, which owns Jane Phillips Medical Center in Bartlesville, for an assumption of Mercy’s clinics and related services in 2016. This would include the Cancer Center of Kansas, the Mercy Pharmacy, the Mercy Health For Life, and primary care clinics in Independence and Cherryvale. At the time Mercy made its announcement, the city commission voted to negotiate with Mercy and St. John Health System with the City’s offer of $3 million as an economic development incentive thrust into the mix.

It’s not yet known how Mercy will respond to the city commission’s decision or if the Missouri-based Catholic charity will stay firm with its timeline to close remaining services by the end of the year. A call to a Mercy spokesperson was not returned by the time of this posting on Friday afternoon.

Friday’s special city commission meeting was the first time the commission was able to publicly discuss any aspect of the negotiations between the commission, Mercy and St. John. Commissioners did reveal some details of those negotiations, including:

• Mercy Hospital dictated the conditions of the negotiations, including the provision that Mercy negotiate with only one party, which was St. John Health System.

• Mercy dictated that the negotiations be held confidentially. Discussions at city commission meetings were held in executive session, which are closed to the public and press.

The city commission picked a healthcare negotiation committee to handle those discussions not only with St. John but in previous discussions between Mercy and Coffeyville Regional Medical Center (the Mercy-CRMC talks broke off in early September, which caused Mercy to announce it would close its hospital and emergency department in October). Those committee members included city manager Micky Webb, city commissioner Fred Meier, city attorney Jeff Chubb and Mercy Hospital board chairman Jim Kelly.

• St. John, which operates primary care clinics in Coffeyville and Caney, offered to assume some of Mercy’s medical services in 2016, including operation of primary care clinics, Mercy Health for Life, the Mercy Pharmacy, and the Cancer Center of Kansas. St. John Health System also planned to operate an expanded urgent care but not an emergency department in the short term. A long-term vision, but not a contractual obligation, called for creation of an emergency department.

• St. John’s proposal was on a three-year term. The corporation asked the City of Independence to guarantee the company’s profit by assuming an annual loss of no more than $750,000 each year for three years. That would mean St. John would receive $2,250,000 in taxpayer funds over a three-year period. It was not known if St. John would accept the $3 million economic development offer and apply it to that yearly profit guarantee or if it would have been in addition to the $2,250,000 it was seeking.

While St. John was in discussions with Mercy and the City of Independence, Labette Health of Parsons also presented a preliminary proposal to the City of Independence to establish an emergency department in Independence. No action was taken on the Labette Health proposal.

Labette Health already operates an urgent care center in Independence and has offices for its visiting physicians from Parsons. Labette Health also operates a primary care clinic in Cherryvale.

However, Friday’s meeting was not held to decide the better of two different proposals. Because the city commission had previously announced it would negotiate a healthcare plan for the community, the meeting was held to decide solely whether to accept or reject the St. John plan.

For Commissioner Gary Hogsett, who voted against the St. John proposal, the question of whether to accept Oklahoma-based charity’s proposal was an issue of fairness. He said St. John made an unacceptable proposal by requiring city taxpayers to pay $750,000 per year for three years to guarantee its profits. He reminded audience members and fellow commissioners and city staff that St. John Health System is owned by Ascension, which is the world’s largest Catholic medical charity.

“I cannot vote to allow taxpayers to cover the losses for a billion dollar corporation,” said Hogsett.

Hogsett said he understands that most business ventures go through losses in their first years of operation. However, he said other local medical providers have not stretched out their hands to seek taxpayers’ money. He cited several medical providers, including a local dentist, chiropractor, a family practice physician, and an optometrist who dispense healthcare without asking for a single penny from city coffers.

Mayor Leonhard Caflisch, who joined Hogsett in rejecting the St. John plan, said he had concerns with the lack of local input in the St. John plan and in the negotiations in general. He said St. John, by virtue of being owned by a non-profit corporation that is based in St. Louis, Mo., would likely not include the concerns of local citizens in its operations in Independence. He said he felt the future needs of the Independence community would best be handled by an organization that allows for local decision making.

“The decisions of St. John will be made by Ascension,” said Caflisch. “I feel this is a matter where we as a community need to control our destiny. I don’t see that in the St. John proposal.”

Casting the lone vote in favor of the St. John plan was Commissioner Fred Meier, who was on the city’s negotiation team. Meier said the St. John proposal would have provided the community with basic medical services while also assuming some of the services that Mercy patients and customers have been accustomed to using, such as the Mercy Pharmacy and the Mercy Health for Life.

However, Meier said that he, too, had problems with St. John’s requirement that the City of Independence write off the company’s losses by contributing up to $750,000 each for three years.

The fact that a major medical provider like St. John sees a need to get public dollars into the mix only verifies that the future healthcare choices for the community will be dictated by the need for taxpayer money, Meier said.

“To be honest, healthcare in Independence will not be cheap,” he said. “For us to have quality healthcare, we are going to have to spend money.”

Following the commission’s rejection of the St. John plan, commissioners entered into a lengthy discussion about how to proceed. All three commissioners had separate visions. Meier proposed that the commission adopt the proposal put forward by Labette Health at a special meeting last week. However, Hogsett said he was not willing to address the Labette Health proposal without fully studying the proposal. He also said he believed the commission should avail themselves to other medical providers who have expressed an interest in the Independence market.

“I think we need to look at our neighbors and get them involved in the process,” said Hogsett.

Hogsett said Coffeyville Regional Medical Center had reached out to him in recent weeks about the possibility of healthcare coverage for Independence. Wilson Medical Center in Neodesha also has made a similar inquiry, and Labette Health has made a proposal to the commission at a previous meeting.

Meanwhile, Caflisch said he was looking for a medical provider that could bring an emergency department, which is one of the priorities set forth by the commission when Mercy Hospital announced its closure plans in early September. He also said he believed opening talks with other medical providers would free the City of the constraints that Mercy Hospital had placed on the negotiations with a sole provider (St. John Health System), which Mercy Hospital picked because of its Catholic affiliation.

In the end, Hogsett and Caflisch were adamant that future discussions involve area medical providers. Meier expressed reluctance in the process, saying it could take considerable time to make a decision when reviewing the proposals.

“Voting in favor of this is going against my better judgment . . . but I feel we are a team,” he said.

Commissioners directed city staff to notify St. John of the vote to reject their plan and also extend an opening to area medical providers to discuss healthcare plans for Independence.

Prior to the commission’s discussions and votes, they heard concerns from several Independence residents. Many of the residents spoke of the need to continue the Cancer Center of Kansas, which is located in a Mercy facility.

Other residents spoke of the need to have public input in the discussions.

Brian Williams, Labette Health chief executive officer, also spoke briefly about the Parsons-based hospital and its plans for Independence.

After the meeting, Williams said that as part of the Labette Health proposal, Labette Health would guarantee a placement of an Independence resident on its governance board to assure local input in its decisions.

No persons from St. John Health System or Jane Phillips Medical Center in Bartlesville spoke at Friday’s meeting.

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Hospital merger discussions cease


A major blow was dealt to the Independence community — and to the future of medical coverage in Montgomery County — on Wednesday when officials with Mercy Hospital and Coffeyville Regional Medical Center ended discussions toward a possible affiliation.

The lack of resolution toward an affiliation between the two hospitals means Independence will likely be devoid of hospital and emergency room coverage in the near future. Coffeyville Regional Medical Center will continue to serve its patients and provide medical coverage to its customer base in southeast Kansas.

Mercy Hospital has previously stated that it would end its local business operations by Oct. 10. However, Joanne Smith, Mercy spokesperson, said Mercy officials will unveil a schedule of phased-out services this week.

Mercy has several medical properties within the Independence and Cherryvale communities, including medical clinics in both towns; Mercy Health For Life, a physical fitness and physical therapy center; a local hospital, which has downsized its services in recent months due to the departure of several physicians; and medical clinics in Independence and Cherryvale. At presstime, it was unknown which of those properties would be closed.

In April 2014, Mercy Hospital announced it would enter into a “discernment” process whereby it would examine its future in Montgomery County. It was later revealed that the Sisters of Mercy, the parent company of Mercy Hospital, would divest itself of its properties in southeast Kansas, including Independence and Fort Scott.

Mercy had discussions with a fellow Catholic charity, St. John Health System of Oklahoma. However, those discussions ended without a resolution.

Mercy then entered into discussions with Coffeyville Regional Medical Center earlier this year concerning a possible affiliation or partnership. After several months of talks, both entities signed a letter of understanding, which is a preliminary agreement before the performance of due diligence, announcing plans to consolidate services while leaving some basic medical services in Independence. The City of Independence entered the negotiations by agreeing to provide $3 million in bonds as an incentive to retain basic medical services in the community under the CRMC umbrella.

However, except for the announcement of a letter of understanding between the two hospitals and the agreement from the City of Independence would provide a $3 million incentive in those negotiations, discussions between CRMC and Mercy were confidential. Officials from both hospitals as well as the City of Independence could not comment publicly about the status or state of those negotiations. It’s not known why the discussions between the two entities ended this week or what the key issues were that kept the two groups from forming an affiliation.

Wednesday’s announcement concludes the attempt by both hospitals to reach some type of long-term accord.

“Our goal from the beginning has been to bring stability and security to the future of health services in Independence,” said Kim Day, Mercy chief executive officer. “Despite the tremendous commitment of both Mercy and CRMC over many months, unfortunately we are unable to achieve this goal.”

Mark Woodring, CRMC chief executive officer, said it was disappointing that a final definitive agreement could not be reached between the two hospitals. However, he said CRMC remained “unequivocally committed” toward building a rural health delivery model for Montgomery County.

“We remain undeterred, optimistic and passionate in our mission to provide vital health care services to our region,” said Woodring. “CRMC will continue to strengthen our organization as we work together with our communities to overcome the economic, political and regulatory headwinds facing rural health care providers across the country today.”

Jim Kelly, who serves as chairman of the Mercy Hospital board of directors, admitted to being disappointed that the affiliation discussions with CRMC did not end with an agreement. However, he said he appreciated the amount of time and depth of study that CRMC officials put into those discussions.

“This is not an easy road for us now,” he said. “However, it’s not a road that we quit on.”

City reaction

City manager Micky Webb said the announcement of the two hospitals’ inability to reach an affiliation resolution was bad news for Independence. However, he said that he was conferring with several other medical entities in the region to discuss the situation and get their perspective on possible medical coverage in Independence.

“All I can say is there is some hope,” he said of prospects of another medical provider establishing a presence in Independence. “We have conference calls scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.”

Webb would not provide the names of those entities, nor could he comment on the Mercy-CRMC affiliation discussions because of a confidentiality agreement.

He also said he was conferring with U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran during the senator’s stop in Independence on Wednesday.

“I’m a bit more hopeful today (Wednesday) than I was when I was told of the affiliation discussions ending on Tuesday,” said Webb. “Regardless, it’s a very difficult situation for Independence.”

Webb also said the $3 million in bonds that had been promised for the Mercy-CRMC affiliation would not be used until an agreement could be reached with another medical provider that might have an interest in locating to Independence.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Independence is the 37th largest town in Kansas in terms of population (9,483). According to the Kansas Hospital Association, several larger towns, such as Haysville, Merriam and Lansing, do not have hospitals. However, those communities are located in suburban areas where access to medical care is readily available.

When the Sisters of Mercy close its hospitals doors in Independence, the community will carry the status of being the largest “rural” town in Kansas without hospital coverage.

Congressional reaction

Speaking at a town hall meeting on Wednesday, U.S. Senator Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, who has advocated the need for more medical access in rural communities, bemoaned the announcement that CRMC and Mercy had discontinued affiliation talks. He said Independence was far too strong of a community to be without medical coverage.

However, he insists that finding a solution to a complicated problem as medical care will require efforts from all people — including himself. He said he intended to focus on some of the Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement problems that have plagued medical centers and clinics across the nation. Those reimbursement issues have been a major point of contention among hospital administrators for years.

The fact that the Sisters of Mercy has chosen to remove Mercy Hospital Independence, combined with the failure of Mercy and CRMC to reach an affiliation pact, is not a signal that a solution can’t be found, Moran said. Even though the state of medical care is confronted with numerous challenges, rural towns like Independence need and must rely on a strong medical community.

“That hospital matters greatly to the future of this community,” he said of Mercy Hospital. “It’s nothing where you just shrug your shoulders and say ‘It won’t work any more.’ In my view, it’s a situation where you just roll up your shirt sleeves and work to find a solution.”

Moran, who has visited all 127 hospitals in Kansas during his years in U.S. Congress, said many of the problems confronting all hospitals — rural or urban — were similar. However, rural hospitals, by their very nature, tend to have a more difficult time recruiting physicians and their families to their communities, which makes the challenges for Independence even more difficult.

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CRMC agrees to buy Mercy Hospital of Independence


The face of health care in Montgomery County changed dramatically Thursday when Coffeyville Regional Medical Center agreed to buy Mercy Hospital of Independence.

Additionally, CRMC will retain various health-care services in Independence, bolstered by the issuance of $3 million in bonds from the City of Independence.

In a special meeting Thursday evening, Coffeyville Regional Medical Center’s board of directors voted to sign a letter of intent for acquisition of Mercy Hospital Independence. The signing of this letter culminates several months of discussions between the two organizations. The CRMC board also voted to accept a proposal from the City of Independence, whereby the City would issue $3 million in bonds to retain some health-care services in Independence under the CRMC umbrella. That letter was also signed by the Independence City Commission on Thursday.

Mark Woodring, CRMC’s chief executive officer, said his board’s vote Thursday demonstrates their foresight and strong support of the affiliation, and he was appreciative of the leadership and commitment of the City of Independence to preserve essential services for the residents of Independence.

“This is truly a special moment in time for all of us as we work together to position our organizations and communities for the future of medicine,” Woodring said. “We are excited to build a rural health delivery model in Montgomery County that ensures our patients and families will have continued access to high-quality services for many years to come.”

Kim Day, interim leader for Mercy Independence, the letter of intent is an “agreement in principle, subject to final approvals” and outlines the transfer of assets of Mercy Hospital Independence to CRMC. The letter addresses governance of the combined entity and sets the stage for making decisions on important operational considerations, such as which health services will be retained on the Independence campus and how co-worker payroll and benefits will be handled.

“This is the starting place,” Day said. “From here, the real work begins to prepare a definitive agreement, operationalize the plan and create a transition that is as smooth as possible for our patients, co-workers, providers and communities.”

While signing the letter of intent is the first step in the affiliation process, parties expect the transaction to move along fairly quickly, with completion anticipated this fall.

The decision by CRMC to purchase Mercy’s assets — and take advantage of the City of Independence’s $3 million financial offer — is in stark contrast to the atmosphere as little as three weeks ago, when it appeared that negotiations between the two hospitals had sputtered. The City of Independence was not part of those negotiations because Mercy Hospital operates as a private, charity-based institution. However, the City of Independence was summoned to re-energize those discussions with the offer to issue bonds, which will be paid back through additional taxation over an extended period of time. The City’s stipulation was that a degree of health-care services would be retained in Independence, including emergency or immediate care, physicians in clinics, and a host of other medical activities.

What is missing from the acquisition is Mercy’s admissions-based hospital. Jim Kelly, who serves on the Mercy Hospital board of directors, said it was highly unlikely that CRMC would retain the hospital portion of Mercy because of economics and demand.

“I simply don’t see having two admissions-based hospital campuses open in Montgomery County,” he said on Friday. “However, I think Independence can keep many of the other medical activities, such as physician clinics, out-patient surgeries, diagnostic and radiology, and cancer treatment.”

Kelly said details that are yet to be worked out between the two hospitals will likely be handled through Day and Woodring, who will report to their respective boards.

The letter of intent signed by the City of Independence on Thursday indicates that the City will subsidize the following services:

• hiring and/or retention of physicians in the “critical areas necessary to maintain appropriate health-care standards in Independence,”

• provision of emergency/immediate care services at the Mercy facility,

• upgrade, implement and maintain an appropriate electronic medical records and patient portal system for the combined facilities.

The letter also said that should CRMC no longer provide health care services in Independence (under an agreed-to acquisition of Mercy), then the assets of Mercy facility would be transferred to the City of Independence.

City manager Micky Webb said CRMC’s formal acceptance of a letter of intent with the City of Independence signals that CRMC is interested in health care in Independence.

“This letter of intent is by no means the final step. This is merely an expression of how the City will use those bonds,” he said. “It merely gets us closer to the finer details.”

How did Mercy Hospital get to the point where the City of Independence was needed to pump money into the negotiations with CRMC? In 2014, Mercy Hospital began a “discernment” process that examined its future role in Independence. It was never revealed at that time if the Sisters of Mercy Health System, which owns Mercy Hospital in Independence and Fort Scott, would shutter its two Kansas campuses. Mercy Hospital in Independence sought discussions with other fellow Catholic-related medical charities, but none of those discussions bore any fruit.

Three months ago, discussions between CRMC and Mercy Hospital began (CRMC is not affiliated with any religious charity and is a stand-alone, private corporation). In the past month, those discussions appear to have stalled, as indicated by the desire of Mercy Hospital to have the local city government enter those discussions. Two weeks ago, the Independence City Commission agreed to offer $3 million in bonds as a possible financial incentive.

The discussions between CRMC and Mercy Hospital have entirely been behind closed doors, and hospitals officials have refused to divulge details, citing confidentiality agreements between the two institutions.

However, the signing of the letter of intent between the City of Independence and CRMC on Thursday did provide some insight the first public disclosure of those discussions.

The letter of intent indicated that CRMC intends to acquire Mercy Hospital and provide “certain health-care services . . . to benefit the Corporation (CRMC) and the citizens of the City of Independence, provided that the City of Independence provides certain financial incentives . . . ”

This dispelled the prevailing belief that the two institutions were forming an alliance or merger. Instead, the letter of intent indicates that CRMC intends to buy Mercy Hospital and its local assets.

The letter of intent also verified something that had previously only been a rumor: that Mercy intends to cease its activities in Independence. Mercy officials have never publicly stated Sisters of Mercy Health System’s future plans in Independence, only that there were no other plans if the CRMC-Mercy discussions failed.

“There is no plan B,” Mercy’s interim chief executive officer Kim Day said in a public meeting in May.

The letter of intent signed between CRMC and Mercy Hospital was unavailable to the press today because of confidentiality pertaining to employment of personnel in both hospitals.

What are general obligation bonds? General obligation bonds often are used by local governments as an incentive for industries and businesses to expand. Those bonds, which essentially put the local city government in a debt situation, are paid back through additional taxation over a specified period of time. The disclosure of how those bonds specifically would be used will be heard when the Independence City Commission holds public hearings at a later meeting.

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Committee to represent City of Independence in hospital merger talks

INDEPENDENCE — Independence city commissioners on Monday named four people to serve as a committee to represent the city’s interests in the merger discussions between Mercy Hospital and Coffeyville Regional Medical Center.

In a brief special meeting Monday, commissioners voted unanimously to appoint city manager Micky Webb, city attorney Jeff Chubb and city commissioner Fred Meier to serve on a five-member committee. Also representing the city on the committee will be Terry Deschaine, a hospital consultant from Wellington, Kan. A representative of the Forbes Law Firm of Topeka, which has a previous history in representing hospital negotiations, will be consulted and provide advice to the committee as needed during the negotiation process.

Commissioner Gary Hogsett said the committee would serve solely to “look after the bests interests of Independence” as the two hospitals discussion plans for a merger.

The five-member committee has little time to get prepared for its duties. The committee is expected to meet Tuesday afternoon in a round of negotiations between CRMC and Mercy Hospital.

Webb said the committee was established after the City of Independence put a monetary interest in the negotiations. At a special meeting last Thursday, commissioners voted unanimously to signal its intent to be in the negotiations by agreeing to issue $3 million in bonds — either as Industrial Revenue Bonds (IRBs) or General Obligation Bonds (GOBs) — for the purpose of retaining health care services in Independence. That decision marked the first time that the negotiation process involved a local government entity. Prior to Thursday’s meeting, the negotiations have solely been between the two hospitals, both of which are private businesses.

The commission agreed to throw itself in the negotiations after talks between the two hospitals appeared to have stalled. The city commission interjected itself into the process in hopes that the assurance of $3 million in bonds would re-energize those discussions. Details of those negotiations have not been made public.

“We’re obviously the stepchild in this process,” said Mayor Leonhard Caflisch, referring to the previous lack of city input in the hospital merger discussions.

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Coffeyville woman is suspect in attempt murder

Coffeyville police have arrested 27-year-old Tenisha Marie Thomas for attempted second degree murder stemming from a shooting incident. Officers were called to 706 W. North Street at approximately 1:30 p.m. on Friday, July 3, for a report of shots fired.

Upon arrival, officers discovered 41-year-old Scott R. Willis, who resides in Coffeyville, had been shot once in the head. Willis had already left the scene en route to Coffeyville Regional Medical Center. Thomas, also of Coffeyville, was
located near the crime scene and transported to the Montgomery County Department of Corrections.

The investigation is ongoing and anyone with information on this case, or who may have witnessed the crime, is encouraged to contact Detective Lucas Vargas at 620-252-6010 or the Coffeyville Police Department at 620-252-6160. Individuals
wishing to remain anonymous may provide information to the Crime Tip Hotline at 620-252-6133.

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• Water is slowly being released into the city’s water distribution system. However, depending upon where you live in Caney, the water pressure will vary. That varied pressure will persist until the entire water distribution system has been pressurized and the water tower is full.

• Because the water distribution system has been shut down, air remains with the lines. City crews will go through the community to open various fire hydrants in order to release air and sediment. Do not be alarmed when seeing water being flushed from the fire hydrants. Relieving the system of air will actually speed up the amount of time for water to flow into residential and commercial taps.

• Even though water will be coming back into residential and commercial taps, a boil advisory remains in effect until further notice. Water rationing also is encouraged, meaning residents should prohibit the watering of lawns and outdoor vegetation.

• Clean, potable water is available to all residents at a tanker parked across the street from Caney City Hall. The water has been made available by the City of Coffeyville. Residents are encouraged to bring containers to fill. The tanker will be available through the duration of the Caney water situation.

• The Caney City Pool is closed today (July 4th). Whether the pool will be open tomorrow or thereafter will be a day to day decision until the water situation is rectified. Check the City of Caney website at for more details about pool hours.

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Water boil advisory issued for City of Caney

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) has issued a boil water advisory for water customers of the City of Caney. KDHE officials issued the advisory because of a loss of pressure. Failure to maintain adequate pressure may result in a loss of chlorine residuals and bacterial contamination.

The advisory took effect at 8 p.m., tonight (Thursday, July 2) and will remain in effect until pressure is restored and all other conditions which place the system at risk of contamination are deemed by KDHE officials to be adequately resolved.

• Customers should observe the following precautions until further notice:

• Boil water for one minute prior to drinking or food preparation, or use bottled water.

• Dispose of ice cubes and do not use ice from a household automatic icemaker.

• Disinfect dishes and other food contact surfaces by immersion for at least one minute in clean tap water that contains one teaspoon of unscented household bleach per gallon of water.

• Water used for bathing does not generally need to be boiled. Supervision of children is necessary while bathing so that water is not ingested. Persons with cuts or severe rashes may wish to consult their physicians.

• If your tap water appears dirty, flush the water lines by letting the water run until it clears.

Public water suppliers in Kansas take all measures necessary to notify customers quickly after a system failure. Regardless of whether it’s the supplier or KDHE that announces a boil water advisory, KDHE will issue the rescind order following testing at a certified laboratory.

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