Officials: Communities need updated hospitals

Wednesday, July 30th 2008, 11:18 pm
By: News 9

By Amy Lester, News 9

PRAGUE, Okla. -- Rural hospitals in Oklahoma are in crisis as some communities struggle to tend to patients in aging facilities, health administrators said.

Several hospitals that are 40 or 50 years old. If the hospitals are not updated, communities fear they will have to shut down.

"This is the older part of the hospital that was building in the mid-1950s," said Joan Walters. Walters is the CEO of the Prague Municipal Hospital. "There just comes a point when there's only so much you can do with an old facility."

Old patient rooms were made into offices, the nursery was made into a nurse station since they don't deliver babies in the hospital anymore and the CAT scan machine was moved outside, in a trailer.

"It's a little crowded," Walters said. "We have to bring the patients outdoors to get into the unit."

Walters said the hospital's layout is far from ideal. Maintenance on the aging building is expensive and the hospital is landlocked so there's nowhere to expand.

"It just gets to the point where you're going to have to replace it or you can't continue to operate," Walters said.

Prague is not the only community with the challenge of an old facility. About 50 communities in rural Oklahoma have older hospitals, and many of them don't have much money, said Val Schott, director of the OSU Center for Rural Health.

"If they don't modernize, they're not going to be able to keep their patient base," Schott said. "The two things our studies show you have to have are a good education, we want our children to do better than we did, and access to health care."

Schott said it's tougher to attract physicians and patients in outdated facilities. Hospitals must have both to stay afloat financially and remain open.

"We've seen hospitals that close," Schott said. "We've seen communities just literally dry up and blow away."

Kingfisher is trying to battle that affect. A $25 million hospital is under construction.

"Kingfisher is just a great example of a success story," said Lance Harris of Miller Architects.

Miller Architects designed the new hospital.

The hospital was built in 1950.

"We're getting to a point where it's just not economically feasible for the communities to continue to keep up with the escalating daily maintenance of the facilities," Harris said.

In Prague, plans have been initiated to give the community a hospital for decades to come.

"We shouldn't have lesser access to health care just because we're small and we chose to live in a smaller community," Walters said.

The biggest challenge for small communities is to find the money to build a new hospital, officials said.