Kansas Common Sense


Welcome to “Kansas Common Sense.” Thanks for your continued interest in receiving my weekly newsletter. Please feel free to forward it on to your family and friends if it would interest them.

VA Secretary Shinseki
On Friday, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki offered his resignation to President Obama, and the President accepted that resignation. I believe leadership matters. I was the first Senator to call for Secretary Shinseki’s resignation on May 6, and that decision did not come lightly to me. Accountability starts at the top, and the step taken toward new leadership at the VA is one in the right direction.

We now need accountability and true reform within the VA. For this to occur, we need a fresh perspective and a leader who is willing to shake up the VA’s bureaucratic culture. I believe this individual should not come from within the current dysfunctional system that is failing our veterans. I hope the President is willing to give veterans an individual they can trust to take the Department in a new direction, and give veterans hope that the VA can move beyond its failures and provide them with the care they earned and deserve. We should not rest until our veterans have a Department of Veterans Affairs worthy of their service and sacrifice.

Access to Care for Veterans
In light of the troubling systemic failures at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Obama Administration recently announced that the VA would implement the “Accelerating Care Initiative” to increase access to health care for veterans across the country, which would include access to non-VA providers. This approach seems like common sense, however, I am skeptical about how long this initiative will expedite the process for veterans and give them the ability to access care outside the VA. Some VA reports state that this initiative will last for 90 days. But, the devil is really in the details regarding which veterans are eligible to seek treatment through this initiative with a non-VA community provider.

I am urging the Administration to give veterans more opportunities to access the health care when wait times and the burden of travel and distance prevent them from doing so. I remain committed to making certain the VA relies on a successful program already being implemented to support rural veterans called Access Received Closer to Home (ARCH). ARCH was a congressionally authorized pilot program implemented by the VA that allows veterans to access care from non-VA community providers closer to where a veteran lives. Since 2011, the ARCH pilot program has been operating in five rural sites, with Pratt, Kansas, selected as one of the communities. Analysis shows that more than 90 percent of veterans who received primary care services through ARCH were “completely satisfied” with the care, and cited significantly shortened travel times to receive this care. Coordination with non-VA community providers has been tested through ARCH and the VA’s Accelerating Care Initiative would benefit from extending and expanding ARCH’s proven model to increase access to care for veterans across the country. 

Veterans should have the best quality health care our nation has to offer and if they need to use a non-VA provider to get quality health care in a timely manner then they should have the choice – both now and as long as they need it. Click here to learn more about the ARCH program.

Visiting Kansas Hospitals
I traveled in Kansas this week as Congress is out of session for the Memorial Day state work period and visited several hospitals around the state. During my time representing Kansans in Washington, D.C., I have visited each of the 127 community hospitals in Kansas. As Ranking Member of Senate Appropriations Health Subcommittee, which has funding jurisdiction over most agencies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that impact hospitals and health care providers, meeting with Kansas hospital administrators, physicians, nurses and other providers gives me insight on the challenges they face caring for patients in Kansas. 

Mercy Maude Norton Hospital
On Tuesday, I visited Mercy Maude Norton Hospital (MMN) in Columbus. MMN is a Critical Access Hospital (CAH) – a small, rural hospital that receives an enhanced Medicare reimbursement to provide care to aging populations across wide rural areas – and part of the Mercy Health System. The hospital provides a wide range of services to patients, 24-hour emergency care and also operates family medicine clinics in Oswego and Columbus. Thanks to MMN Administrator Cindy Neely and Mercy Regional Director of Government Relations Karen Endicott-Coyan for hosting my visit.

Graham County Hospital
On Wednesday, I traveled to Hill City to visit with administrators and staff at Graham County Hospital (GCH). GCH is a CAH and has been serving residents in Hill City and the surrounding area since 1953. Some of the services GCH provides include 24-hour emergency care, lab, dietary, imaging and therapy services. Additionally, the hospital offers orthopaedic, cardiology, and podiatry outpatient clinics. Thanks to GCH CEO Melissa Atkins for hosting my visit. Here, I'm pictured with Jeffrey Parsons, LPN; Nikki Presley, RN; GCH Trustee Don Paxon; and CEO Melissa Atkins.

St. Catherine Hospital
I was in Garden City on Friday to visit St. Catherine Hospital. St. Catherine is a 132-bed acute care hospital that has recently made significant patient service expansions. In addition to the services St. Catherine provides to residents of Garden City and surrounding communities, the hospital recently announced a new minor emergency/urgent care service within the emergency department known as Fast Track. With Fast Track, St. Catherine aims to improve quality of service for patients arriving in the emergency department with non-critical injuries and illnesses. Fast Track is Phase 1 of a $6 million critical care project which will also include a complete renovation of the hospital’s emergency department. Thanks to St. Catherine Community Relations Coordinator Shawna Deal for coordinating my visit. Here, I'm pictured with St. Catherine Executive Director Marketing & Development Victor Hawkins and Cath Lab Supervisor Doug Landgraf.

Wichita County Hospital
On Saturday, I visited Wichita County Health Center (WCHC) in Leoti. WCHC is a CAH that also operates a long-term care unit and a rural health family practice clinic. Additionally, the hospital provides outpatient therapy, lab services, medical imaging and optometry and cardiology outreach clinics. Thanks to WCHC CEO Tyson Sterling for hosting my visit. 

My discussions with Kansas hospital administrators and staff cover a variety of topics. We discussed how the hospitals are implementing new technology to improve patient care, as well as how they are working to address federal regulatory burdens, workforce shortages and Medicare reimbursement challenges.

For example, one burdensome regulation in particular – the Medicare CAH “96-hour rule” – has a significant impact on the three CAHs I visited this week. Under this rule, Medicare requires that physicians at CAHs certify at the time of admission that Medicare and Medicaid patients will not be at the facility for more than 96 hours. Such an arbitrary and inflexible rule places an unnecessary burden on CAHs and doctors without regard to clinical appropriateness, and could result hospitals having to reduce the services they offer patients in Kansas communities. I sponsor the Critical Access Hospital Relief Act (S. 2037), introduced by Senator Roberts, to eliminate this 96-hour rule. I will continue to make certain I understand the real consequences of these decisions through conversations with Kansas health care providers. Here's a photo of the WCHC CEO Tyson Sterling.

Kansas Listening Tour
As I continue my Kansas Listening Tour across the state, I encourage folks to attend and share feedback on the critical issues facing Kansas and the nation. The issues I focus on and the work I do in Washington, D.C., are largely based on the conversations I have with Kansans during these town hall meetings. Click here for a list of upcoming town hall meetings.

Cherokee County Listening Tour Stop
On Tuesday, I held a Kansas Listening Tour stop in Riverton. About 25 area residents met with me to discuss the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster assistance program for Baxter Springs tornado victims, federal agency overreach, the national debt, healthcare and education.

Gray County Listening Tour Stop
On Friday, I held another Kansas Listening Tour stop in Gray County at the Cimarron City Library. The conversation focused on Sec. Shinseki’s resignation and making certain the VA culture is transformed, local care for veterans, the Affordable Care Act and rural health care, EPA water rules, the Lesser Prairie Chicken and immigration reform. Special thanks to Candis Hemel for helping arrange and allowing me to host a town hall in the city library.

Pittsburg Noon Rotary Club
Also on Tuesday, I spoke to the Pittsburg Noon Rotary Club at Via Christi Hospital. The conversation was centered on providing care for our veterans, frustration with inaction in Washington and the reforms needed to our health care system. I appreciated hearing members’ thoughts, suggestions and concerns. 

It was a pleasure to have Drew Streit’s father in attendance. I met Drew when he was stationed with the Army in Afghanistan several years ago. I enjoyed recalling meeting his son and expressed my appreciation for Drew’s service to our country. Thanks to club president Shawn Naccarato for the club banner he presented to me and to my former law school classmate Mark Werner for his kind introduction. I was also glad to have Kansas State Representative Adam Lusker and Pittsburg State University President Steve Scott in attendance.

Garden City Company Dinner
It was an honor to speak at the Garden City Company Dinner on Friday, an event celebrating agriculture in western Kansas. It is my priority to educate my colleagues on Capitol Hill about our special way of life as Congress continues to lose representation from rural America. It is critical to make certain the decisions made in Washington, D.C., do not negatively impact our producers in rural America. With a focus primarily in mineral development and farming, the Garden City Company owns 28,000 acres in Finney and Kearny Counties and leases its land to 20 separate entities. Thanks to Bill Hybl who invited me to attend the dinner.

U.S. Service Academy Commencements
Congratulations to the cadets who recently graduated from the United States Service Academies. These young men and women are the future leaders of our nation’s military forces. These graduates will move forward with their careers in our military, following in the footsteps of the brave men and women who are currently serving and have previously served our nation. I am grateful and proud of those who make the choice of service to their country and their fellow citizens.

Kansans in the Office
Last week we had several visitors in the Washington, D.C., office, including the Kansans listed below: 

Capitol Tours
Rob Green of Hutchinson
Melanie Green of Hutchinson
Owen Green of Hutchinson
Tess Green of Hutchinson
Haden Green of Hutchinson
John Schwartzbeck of Andover
Heather Schwartzbeck of Andover
Charles Drees of Manhattan
Pamela Lathrop of Manhattan
Jason White of Olathe
Melissa White of Olathe
Kaleb White of Olathe
Paige White of Olathe
Zoe White of Olathe
Neil Bhargava of Wichita
Shannon Bhargava of Wichita
Brendan Bhargava of Wichita
Lauren Bhargava of Wichita
Gavin Bhargava of Wichita
David McGinley of Wichita
DeAnne McGinley of Wichita
Logan McGinley of Wichita
Erik Perrins of Lawrence
Kristi Perrins of Lawrence
Katherine Perrins of Lawrence
Ethan Perrins of Lawrence
Bryn Perrins of Lawrence
Verna Meis of Catharine
Sheri Barber of Hays
Timothy Trowbridge of Ulysses
Sydney Meis of Cimarron
Dennis Sewell of Clay Center
Aren Sewell of Clay Center
Alex Sewell of Clay Center
Jennifer Merritt of Junction City
Kylie Merritt of Junction City
Shelbi Mathis of Junction City

Honored to Serve You in Washington
It is an honor to serve you in Washington, D.C. Thank you to the many Kansans who have been calling and writing in to share their thoughts and opinions on the issues our state and country face. I appreciate the words of Kansans, whether in the form of a form of letter, a Facebook comment or a phone call, who wish to make their voice heard. 

Please let me know how I can be of assistance. You can contact me by email by clicking here. You can also click here to contact me through one of my Kansas offices or my Washington, D.C., office.

Very truly yours,

Newsletter Sign-up Form

Note: Fields marked with an * are required.