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Governor visits Bonne Terre

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, center, hands Parkland Health Center Board President Debbie Peterson a signed bill during Wednesday’s ceremonies for HB 402, which is intended to mitigates closures of rural hospitals. From left are Rep. Chris Dinkins, bill sponsor Rep. Mike Henderson, Rep. Cindy Buchheit-Courtway, Rep. Dale Wright, and Parkland Health Center CEO Annette Schnabel. The bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Elaine Gannon, could not be present at the signing which took place at PHC North. (Sarah Haas)

Parson signs rural hospital bill in PHC North’s lobby


With a stroke of a pen inside the lobby of Parkland Health Center North in Bonne Terre, Gov. Mike Parson wrote into law on Wednesday House Bill 402, a measure sponsored by State Rep. Mike Henderson and State Sen. Elaine Gannon that not only promises to mitigate closures of Missouri’s rural hospitals, it is intended to also increase access to rural health care.

According to a Missouri Independent article Aug. 1, a July report from the Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform, a national policy group, found that 19 of Missouri’s 57 rural hospitals are at risk of shuttering because of “serious financial problems.”

“It’s about workforce. It’s about infrastructure. It’s about health care. You know, trying to make it available to everybody in the state,” Gov. Mike Parson told the hospital’s crowded lobby of bill supporters, business owners, health care employees, media and law enforcement.

Parson said his administration has made some of the largest investments in Missouri’s history in telemedicine and telehealth, “but this is a huge opportunity to really be able to capitalize on the federal government and bring it right here to Bonne Terre. Those are the things you have to take advantage of.

Gov. Mike Parson, right, is introduced to Bonne Terre police officer Garrett Worley, left, by Police Lt. Bill Stegall, center, following the bill-signing. (Sarah Haas)

“I think the legislators and the people behind the scenes knew how important this was. I want to say this for Mike and for Elaine both, and the other representatives here. You send me a 19-item omnibus bill, normally things don’t go well: ‘What else are they trying to put in there?’ But I’ll tell you one thing I always do is, I look at the bill sponsors are and do I trust them?”

Parson indicated he was grateful Gannon and Henderson gave him the opportunity to sign such a straightforward bill.

“I just want to do good things for people every day, to be able to make their lives a little better. And as a guy coming from a town of 356 people, trust me, I know what it’s like to need to have health care very close,” he said.

Henderson gave a brief overview of the HB 402 before the bill-signing ceremony got underway.

“The rural hospital has certain criteria it has to meet, like having a 24-hour pharmacy and a 24-hour lab available to people in that community,” Henderson explained.  “…And you can qualify for $3 million a year in additional federal aid do that. That money is gonna go somewhere from the feds, and we want to make Missouri rural hospitals eligible, although they don’t have to take it. So the rural community, besides keeping their hospital, open gets a 24-hour pharmacy and 24-hour lab available in their community, which is huge. That’s a big part of why it’s a winner for everybody.”

Parkland Health Center’s CEO Annette Schnabel said about a year ago, the hospital’s leadership team asked for a meeting with Sen. Elaine Gannon and Representatives Mike Henderson and Dale Wright to discuss the challenges specific to delivering rural health care. Mental health, behavioral health, cancer care and workforce development were part of the conversation.

“Our senators and representatives were engaging and truly sought to understand our issues and how their work as our elected leaders could improve the opportunity for health access in our rural communities,” Schnabel said, adding that HB 402 was almost immediately pre-filed to address rural hospital and health care initiatives.

Schnabel said, while this bill’s initial focus was the rural emergency hospital, it evolved throughout the legislative session to include many other important initiatives, including approaches to rural health care, workforce development, and Nurse Practitioner Act changes that would increase access to care in rural communities.

“The reason we are here today is because of that focus on the rural emergency hospital,” she said. “The rural emergency hospital designation was created on the Federal level through the consolidated Budget Act of 2021 and it went into effect in January of this year.

“Yet our Missouri hospitals could not benefit from this until our state leadership took action. The rural emergency hospital designation provides an opportunity for rural hospitals to continue or resume providing essential services for the communities they serve.

Schnabel said the bill promotes equity in health care for those living in rural communities by increasing patient access to services and helping to sustain hospitals.

“With this bill, Parkland Health Center in Bonne Terre, which began to serve as community in 1911, will have the opportunity to serve this community for many years to come,” she said.

Henderson indicated the bill was special in the way that, what needed to be done to benefit rural Missourians, got done.

Gov. Mike Parson, Mike Henderson

“These are the kind of deals that you want to try to do, when we got together with the [Parkland] leadership team over there that day. They explained to us how it worked. We said, well, this just makes sense. This is a win-win for everybody,” Henderson said. “… In the end, it became an omnibus bill for health care for the state of Missouri. We got everybody to agree. I think 19 are either 18 or 19 pieces all together, but they’re all good things that everybody could agree on. We were very excited to be able to get that done and very excited that our governor, Mike Parson, was able to sign that bill.”

In addition to the speakers, Representatives Dale Wright, Chris Dinkins and Cindy Buchheit-Courtway were in attendance and took turns accompanying those who received copies of the bill, which included Parkland Health Center Foundation Board President Debbie Peterson, retired nurse Carol Coulter and Bonne Terre Mayor Erik Schonhardt. Parson went out of his way to shake hands with Bonne Terre Police Officer Garrett Worley, who survived being shot in the line of duty in March 2022 and has nearly reached his destination on his long road to recovery.

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