St. Luke's in Smithville closing emergency department

St. Luke’s North Hospital—Smithville, located at 601 U.S. Highway 169, is closing its emergency department effective Oct. 31.

SMITHVILLE — St. Luke’s North Hospital—Smithville, located at 601 S. U.S. Highway 169, will permanently close its emergency department doors on Halloween, Oct. 31, of this year.

“Change is an inevitable part of health care, especially in today’s rapidly evolving industry. To ensure that St. 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,” states a media release from the hospital.

Due to steadily decreasing emergency visits to the Smithville location and an increasing number at the Barry Road location in nearby Kansas City, which recently wrapped up a multimillion dollar renovation, the need for an emergency department in Smithville has changed, the release states.

On average, six people visit the Smithville emergency room in a 24-hour period, said St. Luke’s Senior Director of Media Relations Laurel Gifford. The majority of those patients, she said, seek stitches and treatment for flu, pneumonia, coughing, broken bones and upset stomach.

Scott Roy, Northland Regional Ambulance District director, said since 1996, ambulances responding to emergency calls including heart attacks and vehicle accidents have not transported patients to St. Luke’s in Smithville. Law requires patients in need of urgent emergency care be transported to the nearest health care facility best equipped for the level of care needed, he said. Since Smithville is not an equipped trauma center, serious cases see patients transported elsewhere.

Smithville heart attack patients are usually transported about 13 miles away to St. Luke’s North Hospital—Barry Road, said Roy.

Trauma patients are usually transported to Liberty Hospital or North Kansas City Hospital.

“In very rare occasions, once every four or five years, they would receive prearranged patients for limited items from the nursing home next door,” Roy said of ambulance patients going to the Smithville ER. “An example would be quick stitches for simple lacerations.”

Since news of the closure, Smithville resident Ben Birks created the Save the Smithville Hospital ER public Facebook group, which has gained more than 100 members since its creation July 31. Instead of closing the facility, Birks said improvements should be made.

“The primary care is very busy. When you don’t have an emergency room that matches the service people receive in your primary care then, of course, people are going to vote with their feet,” Birks said of the reason he thinks the hospital’s ER visits are declining.

Birks said hospital administration was polite in communicating the change, but thinks Smithville deserves emergency services at the local hospital.

“It doesn’t seem like the administration has been very responsive to concerns people have had about quality of care in the ER,” Birks said. “I understand it is a business decision, but Smithville is a growing suburb. People continue to move here and the reason they choose to do that is because of the hospital. By underselling or underinvesting in the Smithville hospital, they are really selling themselves short by way of significant opportunity.”

Citing city demographics, Birks said Smithville is perfect for marketing of a hospital and that the population will continue to grow. He added closing emergency services in Smithville, in his opinion, will discourage residents from using the local hospital. Losing local ER options, he said, will negatively impact the city’s elderly, tourist traffic in the area during summer months and those who cannot afford to drive to another hospital location.

“EMS is awesome in this community, but I’ve seen firsthand with my older son that sometimes you need that emergency department care just to get things in a spot where whatever symptoms there are stabilized.”

While the planning process is ongoing, Gifford said what will replace the Smithville emergency department at the hospital location remains undetermined.

Northwest Editor Sean Roberts can be reached at sean.roberts@mycouriertribune.com or 389-6606.

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