Brown, Doniphan Co. leaders fearful of hospital vote failure

With 40 provisional ballots yet to count, a sales tax to fund Hiawatha Community Hospital is failing by three votes.

Posted: Nov 6, 2019 9:31 PM
Updated: Nov 7, 2019 2:51 PM

(Hiawatha, Kan.) -- Officials in Hiawatha are hoping that provisional votes can put them over the top. As it currently stands, a vote for a tax increase for the Hiawatha Community Hospital is trailing by only three votes. Election officials say there are still 40 provisional votes to count.

Northeast Kansas leaders say it might be more than just healthcare on the line with the results of the vote. It could be the future of the community.

"We do have the danger of closing in 5-10 years," said Jake Wisdom, a member of the Board of Trustees for the Hiawatha Community Hospital.

Leaders were asking voters for a sales tax that would fund capital needs at the hospital.

"In 2019 we had more equipment failures than we've ever experienced," said hospital CEO John Broberg."

Wisdom says that could soon affect the services the hospital provides.

"If we're unable to replace that equipment that's failing, that is dated, over time we won't be able to provide certain services," he said.

It's no secret that rural hospitals across the nation are struggling. In Kansas, Broberg says that 83 percent of small hospitals now get some of their funding through taxes. 

For an aging community, nearby hospitals are a necessity.

"We rely on it when we send residents to them that have gotten sick," said Margaret Porter, a specialist at the Highland Healthcare and Rehab Center. "They often send us referrals and I send them for help on my infection control every month."

Some say it is more than just healthcare at stake in the final vote on the hospital tax. As one of the largest employers in the region the Hiawatha hospital is responsible for much of the economic activity in the region.

"It's very important to our community if we don't have a hospital, said Hiawatha city administrator Mike Nichols. "The economics of our community, the quality of life, real estate values, all of that would be extremely different."

County officials say the provisional ballots will be counted on November 18th.

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