COLUMBIA — The only hospital serving Callaway County will close by Sept. 22 due to financial strains caused by low patient numbers and a deteriorating facility, according to a press release from the Fulton Medical Center.
After finding out about a week and a half ago that closure was a possibility, city of Fulton and county officials had been working on ways to financially help the hospital, Callaway County Commissioner Gary Jungermann said. But, on Monday, they learned about the decision to close from the hospital’s owner, NueHealth.
"We were kind of put on notice that time was of the essence, and that any day if they didn’t like what they were hearing, they could close the hospital," he said.
However, the burden NueHealth wanted the city and county to pick up was hefty, Jungermann said. They wanted about $200,000 a month to cover losses, he said.
"It’s tough for local government to try to come up with that kind of money on a monthly basis to save a company that basically two weeks ago said even if we resolve a short-term situation they might not even be here in six months,” Jungermann said. "That is a pretty tough pill to swallow."
Additionally, NueHealth owns the hospital building, which has a price tag of $6 million, Jungermann said.
With more than 44,000 people in Callaway County, officials now have two months to find a solution that will let them keep a hospital in the rural area, he said.
Health care isn't the only factor city officials are worried about. Businesses may shy away from the community, and the 158 jobs at the hospital will be lost, Jungermann said.
"We have a community with people who have a lot of different opinions, but at the end of the day, most of them agree we need a hospital in this community," he said.
Officials have been looking at hiring a consulting firm to help find a solution, he said.
The hospital is aging, and despite $1.8 million put toward remodeling and updating surgical equipment and practices, patient volume hasn’t increased, according to the news release.
While the hospital had 37 beds, as of July 20 only 12 were being used. Due to low volume, extensive upkeep and repairs could not be made, according to the release.
In efforts to cover the losses, the hospital tried expanding surgical revenue and its clinical footprint but was unable to do either.
In 2014, MU Health Care joined NueHealth, previously Nueterra, in sustaining the hospital financially with the goal of improving access and quality of care.
But, earlier this month, MU Health Care announced that it would be selling its 35 percent stake in the hospital, according to previous Missourian reporting. It also cited low patient numbers as a reason for the decision to sell.
Care at Fulton Medical Center will continue until the hospital closes in about two months, according to the release.
"Our first priority today, and in the next two months, will be ensuring continuity of care for our patients and supporting the employees of Fulton Medical Center," Mike Powell, the Fulton Medical Center CEO, said in a statement.
Dan Tasset, chairman of NueHealth, said in a statement the hospital's 158 employees will be able to apply for open positions at other NueHealth facilities, where they will be a priority.
MU Health Care will be holding a job fair for the employees on July 28 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., according to a news release. Recruiters at the event will help them apply for open positions.
"We welcome applications from the talented professionals at Fulton Medical Center and urge them to apply for positions at MU Health Care and Capital Region Medical Center," said Sue Kopfle, chief human resources officer at MU Health Care in a statement. "We will do everything we can to make the application process as smooth as possible."
But county and city officials aren't ready to let the hospital go, Jungermann said.
"We are still in the game, even after the announcement," he said. "We are still trying to figure out how to potentially save what we have, whether that’s with Nuehealth, which is highly unlikely, or with someone else."
Supervising editor is Sky Chadde.