LEAVENWORTH, Kan. -- St. Luke's Health System is making some big changes to its operations, which it says are designed to provide a regional healthcare model.
The emergency room at its Smithville hospital is closing, and soon, women in Leavenworth won't be able to give birth in their hometown.
Families feel they're being left behind.
Jessica Lisk is just weeks away from delivering baby number four. But now, the place where all her kids have been born won't be around. The labor and delivery unit of Cushing Hospital in Leavenworth is closing Aug. 7.
"It's terrifying, and I don't know what to do. I wish whoever made this decision could understand that we're not numbers. We're people," Lisk said.
She suffers from epileptic seizures, doesn't have reliable transportation and has state insurance. Without a place to deliver locally, she's worried for her and her baby's safety.
"You feel kind of violated when all your choices are ripped from you," she said.
Pamela Chambers is 74.
"I've always had a passion for babies," Chambers said.
She's helped deliver hundreds of newborns at Cushing over the last 57 years and will now retire. But she worries about the deep impact for her colleagues and the community, as jobs and a crucial piece of rural healthcare are lost.
"They're not thinking of patients or the employees. They're thinking of the money, value and it's all politics is what it is," Chambers said.
Not only is St. Luke's labor and delivery unit going away, its Ob/Gyn clinic across from Cushing is closing Sept. 30, removing access to women's healthcare in Leavenworth County.
"You say you're here for the community, and you're founded on helping women with those needs, and now we're just -- we're not worth it to them. It's not only hurtful. It's a neglect issue," said Brianna Breland, mother of a 10-month-old baby girl born at Cushing.
The next closest hospitals with maternity care are 25 miles or more away.
Now local hometown and military moms from nearby Fort Leavenworth are hoping for a miracle to save their healthcare.
"I pray every day that somebody will be able to do something and make a difference," Lisk said.
St. Luke's staff and many community members may bring this issue before the city commission's regular meeting on Tuesday, August 13. An earlier version of this story said that may occur on August 6, but the city clarified that there's no open forum scheduled.
St. Luke's issued the following statement about its Smithville ER closure:
"Change is an inevitable part of health care—especially in today’s rapidly evolving industry. To ensure that Saint Luke’s is always positioned to provide high-quality care for the communities we serve, we constantly reevaluate the needs of our patients to determine how we can best care for them and offer them the services they most want and need.
Over the past several years, visits to the Saint Luke’s North Hospital–Smithville ED have steadily declined. Meanwhile—with a recent multi-million-dollar renovation and expansion just 15 minutes down the road—more patients are choosing Saint Luke’s North Hospital–Barry Road for their emergency care. As a result, Saint Luke’s has made the decision to close the Saint Luke’s Smithville emergency department on Oct. 31, confident that our Barry Road location will continue to provide exceptional emergency care for our Smithville patients.
For more than 25 years, Saint Luke’s has been firmly committed to the healthy future of Smithville and its residents. As we look ahead to how Saint Luke’s can continue to meet the region’s needs in the most meaningful way, we are optimistic about what’s to come. In-demand services such as behavioral health, rehabilitation, and primary care, will continue to be offered in town. And we’re eager to open the new Saint Luke’s Convenient Care clinic next spring at the upcoming Smithville Marketplace Price Chopper, where local residents will find walk-in care for minor illnesses or injuries, with expanded weekday and weekend hours.
Saint Luke’s is proud to be part of the Smithville community and look forward to providing its residents with quality care well into the future."