Hospital board counters claims made at commission meeting

LA CYGNE – In his meeting with the Linn County Commission on Monday, Jesse Willard complained that the board of the Lincoln-Scott Township Hospital District had not offered to give some of its money to a project he has brought before the commissioners several times over the past year.

Willard purchased the now-defunct Prescott Country View nursing facility in Prescott and has been needling commissioners to give him $300,000 to renovate the structure or put a new hospital district on the ballot that he believes would fund his project.

Last fall, the commissioners put the onus on Willard to gather enough signatures on a petition to place the issue on a ballot, but he has not done so. So on Monday, April 4, when Willard once again tried to convince commissioners to put an issue on the ballot, they decided on a split 2-1 vote to not hold further talks with him until he had gathered the necessary signatures.

He said he would not carry a petition that he said would tax Linn County residents three mills compared to a one mill levy for residents in Lincoln and Scott townships, which also includes La Cygne, Linn Valley and the Cadmus area.

With Evergy’s La Cygne Generating Station located within that hospital district, it can raise substantial tax dollars with a relatively low mill levy.

Commissioner Danny McCullough, who represents the Prescott and Pleasanton area, has been the sole commissioner to supported Willard’s project. During Monday’s meeting he was critical of the Lincoln-Scott hospital board, suggesting the district was hoarding money while still collecting taxes and implying that it was unfair.

McCullough, who is on the Community Health Centers of Southeast Kansas (CHC/SEK) board also charged that the hospital board had not contributed any of its funds to that organization, which now operates the medical clinic in La Cygne.

Commissioner Rick James, on the other hand, defended the hospital board’s decision, saying that how they operated was their business. James’ district includes the northern tier of the county, including La Cygne and Linn Valley.

Kelly Haupt, president of the Lincoln-Scott district, said on Tuesday that Willard had met with the board at its last meeting in 2021 and was given a 10-minute opportunity to make his case. He was told that he would be contacted if the board was interested in discussing his proposal further.

Haupt indicated that the board did not wish to pursue the matter.

During conversations between Willard and the county commissioners, it was noted that the Lincoln-Scott district had $1.4 million in its reserves. Haupt, who joined the board about 18 months ago, confirmed that amount was accurate.

However, she also said that the district has two projects coming up that will eat into those reserves. The district plans to expand parking for the medical clinic building it owns at 1017 E. Market Street in La Cygne. She also said that problems with the clinic’s sewer system will also require repairs she thought would be fairly expensive.

Haupt also noted that the township hospital district charges CHC/SEK $1 for rent of the medical clinic.

In a separate interview with long-time hospital district board member Devona Herrin, she said that the board has also been looking at adding on to the building to accommodate additional specialized services such as physical therapy.

Herrin, a former La Cygne city clerk who has been on the board since its inception, said the district was formed in 2006 in response to county commissioners putting money into clinics in Pleasanton and Mound City but none into La Cygne.

A building on Broadway in La Cygne was used as a clinic, but when the commissioners decided pull out of that building, the community was stuck. “We had no medical facility once the county walked away,” she said.

Organizers mounted a petition drive, gathered enough signatures from both townships to put the issue up for a vote, and voters there confirmed the need to form a new district. With taxes creating an income source, the district board was able to secure loans to build a new clinic building, which was completed in 2007.

The Olathe Health system moved into the building and provided medical services there until last fall when it pulled out of the clinic.

Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas (CHC/SEK), which already had clinics in fairly new buildings in Pleasanton and Mound City, took the opportunity to move into the facility and provide services.

Haupt said that CHC/SEK had been very good to work with.

“The CHC people were literally waiting in the parking lot, waiting for Olathe to clear the building so they could move in,” she said.

She said that with CHC/SEK’s expanded hours, the number of patients served has seen a significant increase. She also said the staff there was working well with the low-income residents in the area.

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