Published in the Iola Register on Feb. 22, 2013.

Letter to the Editor 2-22-13

Dear Editor,
My name is Alex Johnson.  I am a 2009 graduate of Concordia High School, a senior at Kansas State University, and a participant in the University of Kansas School of Medicine’s Scholars in Rural Health program. The Scholars in Rural Health program is designed to identify and encourage undergraduate students from rural Kansas who are interested in building successful careers as physicians in rural areas. This program shapes students’ experiences toward rural health in preparation for entry into medical school. As someone who is from this community entering the health care profession, I feel compelled to write on the issue of the Feb. 26 Cloud County Health Center bond vote. 
Through my participation in the Scholars in Rural Health program, I have completed a research project that has provided me with a good perspective of health care in other communities in rural Kansas, much like our own. 
I interviewed several health center administrators from other rural Kansas areas including Arkansas City, Marysville, Plainville, and Scott City, all of which have recently completed the financing and building of their new health centers between 2005 and 2012. 
Even in such a short time frame, each administrator expressed how beneficial their new center has been for their community. The new facilities have greatly improved the efficiency of their health care professionals and the accessibility to services for their patients.  These communities also explored the option of remodeling their current facilities, but believed their money was better spent by building a new health center that was compliant with fire codes, provided space which served the medical staff and patients more efficiently, and would ensure the security of retaining their medical doctors, nurses, and skilled staff. It would also continue to serve their county and surrounding areas well into the future. All have seen increased use in their medical services and some have been able to provide additional specialty services and have added new physicians. These projects were financed through capital campaigns, property taxes, sales taxes or a combination of property and sales taxes.  At the time of the interviews, none of these communities were concerned they would default on any of their financial commitments. 
The current Cloud County Health Center building is 60-years-old and was not built to best utilize the medical technology and health care needs we have today. If we do not pass this initiative now, I ask when would be a better time and when will it be less expensive? Another 10 or perhaps 20 years, when the building is 70 or 80-years-old? 
Health care is changing – this is undeniable and unavoidable. The current facility was built for extended inpatient care, but those days are long gone. Today’s health system relies upon outpatient and specialty services. With this change, it is becoming increasingly demanding of rural health centers to provide these services locally to their patients, specifically the elderly who cannot always afford the time or money to seek care elsewhere.
Facilities such as the one Cloud County Health Center plans to build says this community is progressive, it is stable, and will continue to provide for the well being of its citizens well into the future. It will also be an asset when the time comes to recruit new or additional physicians, nurses or skilled staff. The individuals who have worked on this project are well-respected members and leaders of the community. They have done their research and have collaborated with hospital staff and outside experts to make informed decisions that would result in the best health care facility for Cloud County. Most importantly, they would not implement a financial plan unless they had full faith and reason to believe in its success.
I understand that many people choose to receive their medical care in other counties, and that is certainly their choice. However, please consider that those who wish to seek care locally want to ensure they have the best possible health care close by. There are many people who are not able or cannot afford to drive out of town to get to the doctor’s office. Please do not vote against this issue simply because you do not think it will affect your medical care. No one knows when an emergency will occur. Having access to a nearby facility, with the capability to transfer critical patients effectively to more specialized services, is vital. 
A new Cloud County Health Center ensures that our county is committed to its patrons, medical staff and the future generations of this wonderful community. Please consider the impact of your vote on the residents of Cloud County and the surrounding communities who will utilize the new health center.
Vote YES on Tuesday, Feb. 26

Alex Johnson