Life Support | Part 2: A rural community without health care
SWEET SPRINGS – Imagine not having a doctor of any capacity in your town.
Bruce and Melissa Eckhoff, along with the citizens of small, rural Sweet Springs have been making do without a doctor in town since February.
“It's just kind of devastating for the town. There's a lot of people that had jobs,” Bruce said about the affect the closure had on the town.
Sweet Springs was home to the I-70 Community Hospital. A 15-bed facility tucked right off the interstate, it provided care to the surrounding rural communities. It closed in February after state regulators revoked its license “temporarily” due to the hospital being out of compliance. Not long after, the owner would file for bankruptcy.
The doors haven’t opened since.
The Eckhoffs travel weekly for doctors’ appointments. Melissa’s injuries from a car accident left her a quadriplegic, so she requires extra medical attention. Right now, the couple travels to Warrensburg or Lexington to as far as Kansas City weekly for hospital visits.
“You're so far away from people here,” Bruce said. “I mean, you're a 45-minute drive from anywhere.”
Not only did the town lose medical care, it was a big source of employment.
Sweet Springs Mayor Francis Vaught watched people move out of town for new jobs.
“Will they come back about? I don't know…I hope so,” Vaught said.
The I-70 community hospital was the sixth rural hospital in Missouri to close in the last five years. Bruce fears more small towns will continue to lose easy access to health care.
“If it doesn't reopen that just something that you know you don't get that back. Small towns in America aren't doing really well anyway,” Bruce said.
A Wednesday meeting brought out a crowd to the local American Legion to hear more about the Sweet Springs Ambulance District possibly buying the hospital. It could mean a tax of $8 to have the millions of dollars it would cost to get the doors open.
But some people think it is a need for not only the town, but people passing through.
“It’s really vital for people moving up and down I-70. If there is a car accident, they get quick service here, they can be stabilized and move on,” Bill Koch said after attending the meeting.