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  • Last modified 159 days ago (Jan. 17, 2019)

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Lighting the end of a very dark tunnel

I’d love nothing more than to regale you this week with the latest achievements of my multi- talented cat, who as a grand-pet for the past month learned numerous new begging techniques from her grand-mistress.

Or I could seek your sympathy for having torn the front and rear bumpers off my car by striking debris from a semi blowout this weekend while driving back to Illinois, where I found that a coolant leak in the ceiling of my office at the university had sprayed my office equipment and furnishings with a toxic chemical.

Or I could note the interesting decline in taxpayers being charged for bottled water in virtually every office (except for the sheriff’s dispatch center, where the charges remain) after we reported those expenses — as the county used to be required to do — in this column a year or so ago.

I could even continue the litany of restroom and National Constipation Month references that seemed to overwhelm last week’s issue like a bad case of the backdoor trots.

But this week, we have to focus on the elephant in the room — what’s happening to Hillsboro Community Hospital and the bigger issue that surrounds it.

Nationwide, rural communities like ours are facing immense challenges. Farms are getting bigger, but farm workforces are getting smaller. Population — especially those with the skills and desire to operate entrepreneurial businesses — is shrinking. Our best and brightest are finding it harder and harder to pay for college and as a result are less and less likely to return here upon graduation and replenish the ranks of leaders and job creators.

Government has become so burdensome that an average small business cannot do such simple things as making its payroll without having to fork over huge amounts to outside services that handle the red tape.

Locally owned businesses like this one are becoming increasingly rare as business after business sells out to larger chains with their focus elsewhere.

And local government, which seems to be the county’s only growth industry, does little to protect what remaining business there is by saving pennies ordering from websites and distant businesses, eliminating local jobs while going far out of its way to feather the nests of its own employees.

All too often, we look for saviors — companies that can come in and wow us with how they will use various breaks we give them to create for us gleaming new things like hospitals, nursing homes, public housing, or other businesses.

Yet, in the end, most of these saviors turn out to be little more than Ponzi schemes, squeezing each community they serve for concessions that end up being leveraged to pay for trying to get similar concessions out of the next community.

We’re big believers in the notion that something positive can come out of almost anything negative, and if that’s true, we have some key lessons to learn from the Hillsboro hospital situation and the not-dissimilar Westview Manor situation in Peabody.

We can’t expect outsiders who don’t have the love of our hometowns that we natives possess to do anything but use and discard us when we become inconvenient. When the going gets tough, they get going — to greener pastures, where they can exploit some other community the way they exploited us. And it’s not just companies that do this. It’s administrators of government services brought in from outside.

We need to take control of our own destiny. In the aftermath of the Hillsboro hospital situation there doubtlessly will be efforts to bring in another savior or to create a Hillsboro satellite of some facility based in Newton, McPherson, Wichita, or even Kansas City. In truth, what makes sense would be to have Hospital District No. 1, which so successfully operates St. Luke Hospital, expand countywide and use the Hillsboro facility as an urgent care center.

The district could even take over the county’s beleaguered ambulance service and put it in the hands of medical professionals instead of politicians who know little if anything about running emergency medical services. This might allow sharing of nurses and paramedics, who could serve both in ambulances and emergency rooms.

More important, it would be us running the show, rather than us being some small and expendable appendage of some billionaire’s financial shell game.

Developing our communities, their services, and their economies is a process that begins at home, and there are little things each of us can do to further that.

Stop complaining about prices local grocers are forced to charge, largely because they have to pay to transport goods to their stores. I’m a Caffeine Free Diet Dr Pepper drinker. Walmart, which showed its true colors in abandoning Hillsboro, won’t stock it. Amazon does, but at $17 a carton. True, I can buy it at distant stores for $4 on sale and at Carlsons’ Grocery in Marion it’s close to $7. But Carlsons’, unlike Walmart, will order extra when I’m in town, and there’s no way the $4 price I might get elsewhere would be cost-efficient if I had to haul what I buy 60 miles round trip every time I need it.

We all love the convenience of chain stores, but have you considered that when you buy something at a locally owned place like Ampride, your dollars never leave town the way they instantly leave the community after you buy from businesses headquartered elsewhere?

Marion County has to stick together — whether it’s with grocery purchases or operating hospitals. Our individual contributions by shopping local may not solve the problem, but it’s a first step we can do — just as we recycle an aluminum can rather than put it in the trash. We aren’t solving global climate change, but we’re doing what we can. We can’t afford to do less.

— Eric Meyer

Last modified Jan. 17, 2019

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