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I think the last thing anyone thought Columbia would need is another hospital, and yet another facility is apparently on the way. Nueterra, the Leawood, Kansas, firm that bought Fulton’s 57-bed Callaway Community Hospital last December, by its own admission is “…disrupting the current model and unveiling new opportunities to raise quality standards, provide direct access and drive down costs.” This was followed by the announcement last April that Nueterra, teamed with University of Missouri Health Care as a minority participant, wants to build a 10-bed, $38 million hospital on a site in southeast Columbia presently occupied by two mobile home parks.
Skeptics intone, so what is it exactly that Columbia’s two existing mega hospital complexes, the VA hospital, two orthopedic hospitals, numerous specialized clinics and on and on are not already providing in the overall realm of health care specialties and services? Or is this a case of developing and staffing a facility to harvest cherries from the trees of medical care upended as it is and stipulated under provisions of the controversial Affordable Care Act of 2012?
As free enterprise capitalists, we say bring it on, and the more the merrier. Of course it would be in the region’s best interest to have more physicians, more beds, more wonderful support technology and all the other bells and whistles that have enabled longer, healthier living. And yet most of us are hopelessly naive about the future of medical care in this country, mere barnacles clinging precariously to the huge ocean liner that represents the health care industry in all its facets, figuratively speaking, as it pokes through the shark-infested ocean of initiatives and regulation by government entities on all levels.
These developments confirm Columbia has earned its stripes as a major metropolis of medicine. And if what would be another hospital and its new owner in Fulton can attempt by taking this audacious step, well, why not ask Fitzgibbon and Bothwell hospitals in Marshall and Sedalia, respectively, to open branches here modeled after Nueterra’s Fulton proposition? Carried to another extreme, how about going after branches of the Mayo Brothers clinics; the Cleveland Clinic; or well-known hospitals in Boston, New York, Los Angeles and other big cities? Columbia is already on the map of advanced medical care in the promising field of nuclear medicine, so why not, we ask.
Fulton is stirring. With more than $200 million on line to finally fix up the embarrassingly decrepit State Hospital No. 1 and announcements of new industrial development and a REDI-type economic initiative, Fulton is on the move. Sometimes in our own hubris, we forget that Columbia is ringed by seven county-seat communities, all but one of them less than an hour’s drive away. We know about the state capital because there’s a huge daily commuting liaison between Jefferson City and Columbia, with Ashland the beneficiary in between. There’s the increasingly evident commuter traffic between Columbia and Boonville, Fayette, Moberly and Mexico. A bridge is missing, so California, only 25 miles southwest of Columbia by air, is less convenient with a 50-mile road trip, but still they come from Moniteau County.
Then there’s Fulton: a virtual straight line 20 miles east of Columbia through the hills and dales of the Kingdom of Callaway on the historic Old Trails Road. Fulton missed out on the interstate highway bonanza, bypassed because the Centennial Road Act of 1921 ordered construction of a straight- away stretch of U.S. Highway 40 — originally State Route 2 — between Calwood and Columbia. Running six miles north of Fulton, this supplanted the old Fulton Gravel Road, which was the original course of this important transcontinental highway, the forebear of Interstate 70.
Whether Nueterra and MU Health Care are allowed to build a hospital here, fixing up the relatively direct 20-mile highway connection between Fulton and Columbia should join the already bloated list of impossible-to- finance highway upgrades most of us have been secretly yearning for. One recalls the talk 50 years ago while construction of Columbia’s new regional airport was finally underway of building a new road between Fulton and the airport, and see how far that turkey got. Somehow it just doesn’t seem beneficial for our region’s overall economy to have many of our Callawegian neighbors drive to Kingdom City and then west another 20 miles or more into Columbia on Interstate 70. Widening and straightening State Routes WW and J should be a priority with the eventual dream of building a four-lane divided highway between the Kingdom’s capital city and the county of Boone. It would be a win-win for the entire region. Perhaps by the year 2115!