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Bristow Hospital Fights To Survive As Other Rural Hospitals Close

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BRISTOW, Oklahoma -

It's a growing problem here in Oklahoma: small-town, rural hospitals - including facilities in Sayre and Eufaula - are shutting their doors. But, in Bristow, they're working towards a different diagnosis and outcome.

"If you go to almost any small town that has a current hospital, they are struggling and they are barely surviving - if they even are surviving," said Jan Clark, CEO of the Bristow Medical Center. 

The Bristow Medical Center has been serving the community since 1954. 

"When I call, they would have a wheelchair at that door every time we came, with a nurse," said Bristow resident Helen Marie Varner.

It's a personal touch that comes with a cost that aging facilities like the Bristow Medical Center are finding increasingly difficult to cover. 

But, what price can you put on a life? There are people who have literally lived most of their lives in Bristow, who owe their lives or the lives of their loved ones to the Bristow hospital because going to Tulsa wasn't an option for them. 

"I could tell by the look on his face, I was in trouble," said Bristow attorney Kelly Hake. "In 2012, I was in my office and out of the clear blue I had a heart attack. If I'd made the decision to go home, I'm...I'm dead."

Bristow Medical Center Nurse Practitioner Ashley Yuras said their patients might not make it if they had to make that 33-mile drive to Tulsa. 

"We have heart attack, stroke patients, trauma patients, that come through the emergency department, that if they had to make that travel to Tulsa, they wouldn't make it," Yuras said. 

But, right now, it's this hospital that's struggling to make it. 

"We knew we couldn't count on this market, as it is right now, with this hospital, we started looking for other avenues to bolster the revenue of the facility," CEO Jan Clark said. 

Seventy-nine rural hospitals have closed in the United States since 2010 and hundreds are on life support. 

But, the Bristow Medical Center has a plan that can work in Bristow and other small towns too. 

A key part of "Jan's Plan" is partnering with the City of Bristow to build a new $25 million hospital. 

"This will be a 50 thousand square feet," Clark said. "We think we found a model that could really be emulated in other communities."

The Bristow Medical Center is comprised of two campuses - the 63-year-old facility in Bristow and the core orthopedic hospital that opened in Jenks in 2015. 

"It's all under one hospital, one license, one tax ID number, one ownership," Clark said. 

The state-of-the-art core facility has been a financial success and in essence, pays the bills to keep the doors open in Bristow. 

"It generates 80 percent of our revenue as a whole for our system," Clark said. 

But, challenges remain, and one of them is that core is not currently in the Blue Cross Blue Shield network and that's impacting their bottom line. 

"The third-party payers are resistant to let us into their network because they already have the large box hospitals.  We've often offered to take a little bit less than what other providers receive in the urban market and that hasn't been met with success," Clark said. 

Clark's ownership group is determined to change that and within five years, partner with the City of Bristow to replace the current facility with a new $25 million hospital. 

Hake said he owes his life to the Bristow Medical Center and can't imagine Bristow without it. 

"Without a hospital, you don't have a town," Hake said. 

The new hospital in Bristow will be owned by the city and leased to the ownership group that Clark works for. 

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