Thursday, February 19, 2015

As rural hospitals struggle, they need careful news-media attention; here's an example from Kansas

With many rural hospitals in financial trouble, rural news media need to cover their activities. Some handle hospitals with kid gloves, because they are such important local institutions, often run by well-regarded local people. But in many cases the accountability for these institutions is fuzzy, and rural news media are in a position to increase accountability.

One newspaper doing that, and sometimes extending the benefit of the doubt, is The Syracuse Journal in western Kansas, where the latest story is about the administrator of Hamilton County Hospital being relieved of his duties pending an investigation. Administrator Bryan Coffey had blamed "negative" press for his inability to recruit doctors and other health-care providers.

In response to that, Journal Editor-Publisher Marcus Ashlock published a front-page editorial headlined, "The truth is a difficult pill to swallow." He wrote that in 2014, 16 of the 26 stories about the hospital were positive, not counting "several positive opinion columns written in support of the hospital and its future," and showed how Coffey had "falsified" claims that the newspaper had misrepresented the presence of security guards at a town meeting about the hospital last summer.

"The real issue at hand is his inability to control himself or his emotional outbursts," Ashlock wrote. "Once made, he tries to rewrite history through false accusations against the newspaper in an attempt to shoot the messenger. He seems angered by the truth and at the newspaper for exposing his perceived shortcomings." In fact, Ashlock continued, he didn't publish some of Coffey's comments because "the community was starting to heal from the explosion this past summer. . . . From now on, The Syracuse Journal will print everything, and at the end of 2015, the community will know the whole truth." For a PDF of the Journal's front page, click here.

If readers of The Rural Blog have other examples, good or bad, of local coverage of rural hospitals' troubles, please send it our way.

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