When Melissa Combs thinks about the days after residents in the southeast Missouri town of Kennett learned they were going to lose their hospital, she remembers the reaction of the community.
“Devastation, lots of sleepless nights, the entire community was wrecked.”
Combs is the Executive Director of the Kennett Chamber of Commerce. Combs uses the term crisis in two ways…she says the town of just over 10-thousand people is experiencing an economic and a healthcare crisis. On April 30th, the owners of the the Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center announced a consolidation with the Twin Rivers Regional Medical Center in Kennett, which led to the closure of the facility on June 11th, well before the original date of June 30th. Combs says since that happened, there has been an impact on the community.
“Loss of the hospital meant loss of payroll of about $14 million on the low point. That dollar turns a couple of times, so it really meant about $30 to $40 million in impact and every business was negatively impacted by the loss of Twin Rivers Medical Center,” says Combs.
Jim Grebing agrees. He is the Director of Economic Development for Kennett. He says the loss is huge because of Kennett’s position in the Missouri Bootheel.
“We are a regional trade hub,” says Grebing. “We are a regional center for education, healthcare, retail, services and more. If we lose our healthcare infrastructure totally, the impacts ripple out and starts leading to irreversible damage to our economy.”
He says the ripple effect is one he is starting to see.
“There were 275 jobs at the hospital and many of those people had to leave to find other work in the healthcare field,” says Grebing. “There is a lot of concern about where to go for advanced care services. We also have six ambulances in Dunklin County and the farther they go out for emergency room runs, it makes the pool that much smaller. There has been some concern and some panic.”
Grebing says after the closing announcement, the community started forming a plan. One thing that has helped reduce some fears has been the addition of two urgent care clinics in the community. A group of local physicians have opened an urgent care facility, and St. Bernards also opened an urgent care and imaging center across the street from the old hospital. St. Bernards held a ribbon cutting yesterday. Some of the same physicians that worked in the emergency room in the old hospital are working in the urgent care clinics.
While those clinics are providing healthcare services, conversation has been swirling in Dunklin County about a special election that takes place August 7th. Two propositions are on the ballot. One would be a half-cent sales tax and the other would be a property tax. One supports construction of a hospital and the other would be for maintenance and care of the building. A private management company would run the hospital. Combs says both propositions must pass for the hospital measure to pass. Grebing says there has been a lot of discussion both for and against the tax. He says he is for a tax to build a new hospital, but he has heard of some who are against the tax proposal.
“I understand there are some who are against the tax because no one likes for taxes to go up, but we were put in this situation and this plan allows us to build a hospital so we can avoid economic damage that we cannot recover from if we don’t have a hospital,” says Grebing.
He says there will be four public meetings that will be held this month to discuss the tax proposal. The first one is Thursday night at the Malden Community Building at 6 p.m. Other meetings will be July 17th at Crosspoint Church in Campbell, July 30th meeting at the Holcomb Community Building and July 31st at the Clarkton Housing Community Building.