MU Rehabilitation Center to close

Over the past five years, the center in Mount Vernon received $10 million from the state each year, while its annual operating costs reached nearly $30 million.

The Missouri Rehabilitation Center in Mount Vernon will be closed by MU Health Care on Oct. 31 due to uncertain funding, competing facilities in Springfield and Joplin, decreased number of patients, and several costly facilities needs.

MU Health Care spokeswoman Mary Jenkins said a combination of all these problems prompted MU to close the center.

“Over the past five years, the Missouri Rehabilitation Center has received state appropriations of approximately $10 million annually," Jenkins said. "(The center’s) operating expenses total about $30 million annually."

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon vetoed $5.2 million this year from an original $10.4 million funding proposal for the center by the Missouri General Assembly, which made funding for the future uncertain.

“Hospitals need to be able to plan strategically and uncertain funding makes it hard to do that,” Jenkins said.

Mitch Wasden, the chief executive officer and chief operating officer for MU Health Care, was unavailable for comment.

The Department of Veterans Affairs rents out 35,000 square feet of the clinic, and their lease runs through October 31. The Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System in Little Rock is currently in charge of running the outpatient clinic at the center.

“It’s always a challenge when services are cut . . . I know the Arkansas VA hospital in Fayetteville has had some challenges a few years back but it is currently getting out of it,” Arkansas state Rep. Charlie Collins (R-Fayetteville) said. “It’s always tough when services are cut off, especially for our veterans.”

The center first opened in 1907, originally as the Missouri State Sanitorium, and treated tuberculosis.

The General Assembly rebranded the center as the Missouri State Chest Hospital in 1971, as the number of TB patients declined and other lung diseases became more prevalent. During this time, the hospital expanded its treatment to other forms of chest ailments including cardiac and pulmonary diseases, as well as respiratory issues like bronchitis.

In 1985, the General Assembly changed the hospital’s focus again to accident impairment injuries and expanded the facility in 1986 to include brain injuries.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services charged MU with the ownership of the center in 1996.

Spanning 140 acres, the physical plant of the Center has been standing for 107 years and requires constant repairs.

Currently, the center needs a $1.3 million window replacement in the Hearnes building, a $1.7 million sprinkler system, a $1 million elevator renovation, $1.5 million worth of streets/parking lots repaved, and $500,000 to repair leaking roofs in the Hearnes building and the infirmary.

Jenkins said MU will assist the 323 employees at the center in finding new jobs. The employees will also receive priority consideration if they choose to apply for a job in Columbia.

"MU has human resources staff at Mount Vernon this week and are working with employees,” Jenkins said. “(The center’s) employees will be given transition pay and benefits, and priority consideration for jobs at MU Health Care in Columbia. They are able to fill out a form online for positions in Columbia.”

Jenkins said MU Health Care is rapidly growing and is in the process of expanding its facilities, which will create more opportunities for former employees at the center.

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