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Where It Hurts Podcast Cover
Where It Hurts

The Where It Hurts podcast is about the often painful cracks in the American health system that leave people frustrated — and without the care they need.

Each season we’ll take you somewhere new — to an overlooked part of the country, to a community suffering because of gaps in care, to a failing sector of the health care industry.

Ways To Subscribe

Where It Hurts is a partnership of Kaiser Health News and St. Louis Public Radio

The Place

Our first destination is Fort Scott, Kansas. Rural. Midwest. Gritty. Deeply Christian. Largely poor. And sicker than other parts of the state.

Fort Scott and other small towns helped elect President Donald Trump. They represent the demographic fault lines that pundits point to as proof of the widening cultural gap between rural and urban America. As the 2020 presidential election nears, the lives of people in rural America will be in the spotlight again.

The Story

Season One is “No Mercy.”

The story begins when Mercy Hospital Fort Scott shut its doors. Locals lost health care. Health workers lost jobs. Fort Scott’s sense of identity wavered.

Season One is about what happened next — about the people who remain, surviving the best way they know how.

No Mercy: The hole left behind is bigger than a hospital.

Across rural America — hospitals are packing up and leaving — and so is a younger generation. Fort Scott is not alone. More than 125 rural hospitals have closed since 2010.As the podcast season unfolds, our story shows the mighty economic and emotional blows a hospital closure delivers. Nonetheless, what we found challenges the notion that every community needs a hospital.

The Storyteller

Sarah Jane Tribble grew up on 10-acres about an hour from Fort Scott. After two-decades away from home, Sarah Jane returns to southeastern Kansas to ask locals how the hospital closure changed their lives. Along the way, Sarah Jane embraces her roles as a native Kansan and investigative journalist to ask some uncomfortable questions of town leaders and the Catholic nuns who left Fort Scott.

  • Where It Hurts Podcast Cover
    Trailer | Where It Hurts, Season 1: No Mercy
    The story begins when Mercy Hospital Fort Scott shut its doors. Locals lost health care. Health workers lost jobs. Fort Scott’s sense of identity wavered. Season One is about what happened next — about the people who remain, surviving the best way they know how. No Mercy: The hole left behind is bigger than a hospital. Hosted by investigative journalist and Kansas native Sarah Jane Tribble, the podcast is a production of Kaiser Health News and St. Louis Public Radio.
  • Midwesterners aren’t known for complaining. But after Mercy Hospital closed, hardship trickled down to people whose lives were already hard. Pat Wheeler has emphysema. Her husband, Ralph, has end-stage kidney failure, and the couple are barely making ends meet as they raise their teenage grandson. Pat has simmering anger for the hospital executives who she says yanked a lifeline from residents. “They took more than a hospital from us,” she says.
  • Closing a hospital hurts. In Fort Scott, no one was a bigger symbol for that loss — or bigger target for the town’s anger — than hospital president Reta Baker. Reta was at the helm when the hospital doors closed, putting her at bitter odds with City Manager Dave Martin, who some in town call “the Little Trump” of Fort Scott. He says his town wasn’t given the chance to keep the hospital open.
  • Emergency care gets complicated after a hospital closes. On a cold February evening, when Robert Findley falls and hits his head on a patch of ice and his wife, Linda, calls for 911, the delays that come next expose the frayed patchwork that sometimes stands in for rural health care.
  • For more than 100 years, Mercy Hospital — or at least the nuns who started it all — cared for Fort Scott. Town historian Fred Campbell says Mercy was part of the town’s DNA since its booming rail town days. But in recent years, as Fort Scott’s economy struggled, locals say the hospital went “corporate.” Sister Roch, the powerhouse who consolidated all the Mercy hospitals in the Midwest, has an answer.
  • Sixty-five-year-old Karen Endicott-Coyan is living with a blood cancer and she needs frequent chemotherapy. Before Mercy Hospital closed, she got her cancer care right in town. These days getting to chemo means an hour-long trek on rural roads and narrow highways. The stress and frustration of traveling illuminates one reason cancer death rates are higher in rural America.
  • Life in a small town often feels like a dead end for Josh, a teen whose mother died of a drug overdose when he was 3. His grandparents became sick just as Mercy Hospital was closing, forcing them to seek care hours away from home. Soon after, Josh dropped out of high school to help more at home, upending his already unpredictable life. Months have passed since Mercy Fort Scott closed, and some in town have softened their position. Hospital president Reta Baker and City Manager Dave Martin end months of acrimony and begin to realize where they do agree.
  • What kind of care do the people of Fort Scott absolutely need? Sherise Beckham, a 31-year-old wife and mother, lost her job at the hospital when Mercy closed — just as she was expecting her second child. The closure disrupted her prenatal care and left Sherise’s family frightened. But when Sherise is hired at the new community health center, it seems her family’s — and the town’s — fortunes may be changing.

The Podcast Team

  • Sarah Jane Tribble

    Sarah Jane Tribble

    Host Reporter

    Sarah Jane is a senior correspondent for KHN and covers the state of health care in rural America. She’s led award-winning coverage on prescription drug prices and the rare-disease drug industry. Sarah Jane has been a print and audio journalist for more than two decades.

  • Taunya English

    Taunya English

    Managing Editor, Managing Producer

    Taunya is senior editor for broadcast innovation with KHN, where she leads enterprise audio projects. Previously, Taunya was editorial director of “The Pulse,” a national health and science radio show produced at WHYY in Philadelphia.

  • Greg Munteanu

    Greg Munteanu

    Original music, Mix and Sound Design

    Greg is the midday host at St. Louis Public Radio. When he’s not at the station’s helm, Greg cooks, teaches guitar, gardens and records lots of music.

  • Tarena Lofton

    Tarena Lofton

    Production Assistant

    Tarena is assistant social media manager at KHN. Previously, she was a communications intern for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.

  • David Kovaluk

    David Kovaluk

    Illustrations, Design and Logo Art

    David is a visual communication specialist with St. Louis Public Radio. His day-to-day responsibilities are a mashup of graphic design, illustration and photography.

Newsroom and Station Support

Editorial, Marketing, Digital Production and Social Media
  • Elisabeth Rosenthal
    Elisabeth Rosenthal
    Editor in Chief, KHN
  • Diane Webber
    Diane Webber
    National Editor - Broadcast, KHN
  • Madalyn Painter
    Madalyn Painter
    Director of Marketing & Digital Media, STLPR
  • Lydia Zuraw
    Lydia Zuraw
    Producer, California Healthline and KHN
  • Brendan Williams
    Brendan Williams
    Digital Product Lead, STLPR
  • Alexander Rice
    Alex Rice
    Digital Developer, STLPR
  • Chaseedaw Giles
    Chaseedaw Giles
    Social Media Manager, KHN
  • Mary Agnes Carey
    Mary Agnes Carey
    Partnerships Editor, KHN
  • Terry Byrne
    Terry Byrne
    Copy Chief, KHN
  • Chris Lee
    Chris Lee
    Senior Communications Officer, KFF