Hundreds of people gathered Monday night for a candlelight vigil in support of Topeka’s St. Francis Health Care.
The vigil was held in response to persisting rumors that SCL Health, the company that owns St. Francis, will close the hospital. Speculation of an imminent closure started after the company put the hospital up for sale. Despite several offers, no deal has been reached.
Haylee Simpson, a registered nurse at the hospital, says staff has been waiting for at least a year for news about the hospital’s future.
As time passed, administrators stopped talking to staff about the hospitals future. The silence led Simpson and other employees to believe that even top officials had been left in the dark.
“It could go either way,” Simpson said. “They’re not saying a word, which is almost worse than saying something bad because we would know and be able to move forward.”
An announcement regarding the hospital’s future could come as soon as Tuesday.
The mother of four children who has worked at St. Francis for five years says she received a promotion in October, which allowed her family to move into a new home.
“And now, I’m looking at having no job at all, which is the complete opposite of a promotion,” Simpson said.” It’s very scary, especially with the kids at home.”
Simpson says she has seen contactors working around the hospital in recent weeks. While she doesn’t want to speculate on what work is being done, the fact that improvements are being made to the facility gives her a glimmer of hope.
“If they’re actually going to shut the doors and have no patients, I don’t know why they would still be spending money on a building that’s just going to sit,” Haylee said.
However, recent news that the hospital’s emergency department has been operating without a contract since January has made it difficult for employees to remain optimistic about the future.
“Things like that are even scarier,” Simpson said. “Things are going on that people have complained about while still trying to go with the flow and hope for the best. Now, all these things going behind closed doors that are finally seeping out has made things even more realistic and nerve-racking for a family at home that’s relying on my income.”
One person who claims to have inside information about what is actually going on behind those doors says there will not be an announcement anytime soon. But the hospital is still on the chopping block.
The source, who asked to remain anonymous over concerns of professional retribution, says the reason for the pending closure can be traced back to SCL Health.
The faith-based non-profit group headquartered in Denver, Colorado purchased St. Francis from the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, an organization that founded the hospital more than a century ago as a charitable health care center.
That purchase, the source claims, came with a $500 million fund meant to remain in Topeka. Allegations have been made that SCLhas other plans for that money. The source states the information came from someone with inside knowledge of the situation.
“They want this money and have been funneling money out of St. Francis to make it look like they are operating at a loss for the past several years when, in reality, they haven’t been [losing money],” the source told WIBW News Now after Monday night’s vigil.
Topeka resident Michael Hooper, who has written several blog posts about the St. Francis deal, made public comments at Monday night’s vigil, claiming St. Francis is not currently operating at a loss.
Hooper says tax returns show the hospital currently has $248 million in reserves.
“They had $12 million in losses last year,” Hooper told the crowd. “With a modest cut in their $278 million in revenue, they could turn a profit.”
These allegations come after SCL Health reportedly spent millions of dollars to fund a new chapel in Denver and make renovations to existing hospitals in that city.
“That’s why they want to close the hospital,” the source claims. “Once they close it, there’s no hospital and nowhere for that money to go. That gives them access to half-a-billion dollars, which they can use for whatever they want.”
Several offers to buy St. Francis have been made in several weeks. Companies that have reportedly made offers include Via Christi in Wichita, The University of Kansas Health System and Topeka’s Stormont-Vail Heath.
The source alleges at least eight offers have been made, but each has been denied by SCL Health.
WIBW News Now reached out to SCL Health via email to request an interview about the potential closure. A spokesman for the company declined that request, but would send a news release with updates on the situation.
A spokesperson for St. Francis on Monday said they could not comment at this time on anything regarding the potential closure.
According to a release sent last week by Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, SCL Health maintains more than $2 billion dollars in assets.
At the request of Gov. Sam Brownback and Topeka Mayor Larry Wolgast, Schmidt’s office will launch an inquiry aimed at ensuring the charitable assets of St. Francis remain in Kansas.
Schmidt’s actions seek to protect Kansas-based charitable assets from being improperly transferred from the state.
The Attorney General has the authority to safeguard Kansas charities. Under state law, Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth is still considered a non-profit corporation.
While rumors continue to swirl and state officials work to save the hospital, an entire community is left waiting for answers.
“There are 1600 employees that this is going to impact,” Simpson says. “And ten times the amount of patients. Some people in this community won’t go anywhere but St. Francis. Where will those people go if we do close?”
Updated @ 8:30 a.m. with a response from SCL Health