New podcast from St. Louis Public Radio, Kaiser Health News spotlights cracks in rural health care

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Where It Hurts

“Where It Hurts,” a new podcast from St. Louis Public Radio and Kaiser Health News, will examine cracks in the American health care system. The first season, titled “No Mercy,” begins on Tuesday with subsequent episodes released weekly through Nov. 10. (Graphic courtesy of St. Louis Public Radio)

St. Louis Public Radio | 90.7 KWMU is partnering on a new podcast spotlighting the often painful cracks in the American health care system.

Where It Hurts,” produced in concert with the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Kaiser Health News, will take listeners to overlooked parts of the country and communities suffering because of gaps in care and failing sectors of the health care industry.

The first season, titled “No Mercy” launches on Tuesday and dive into the experiences of the rural town of Fort Scott, Kansas, in the year after its only hospital – Mercy Hospital Fort Scott – was closed by a distant corporate owner.

Additional episodes to be released weekly through Nov. 10, and will be available on major podcast platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and NPR One.

“Where It Hurts” is the seventh podcast currently in production from St. Louis Public Radio, a service of the University of Missouri–St. Louis committed to public service journalism that informs and inspires.

In losing Mercy Hospital Fort Scott, the community lost not just health care but also one of its largest employers and some of its best paying jobs, sparking tensions, anger and fear for many. Fort Scott’s identity wavered as residents struggled to come to terms with losing the place where their babies were born and kids’ bones were set, and patients with cancer went to get chemo.

Mercy Hospital served as a mainstay of the town for 132 years, and was a constant presence until faltering finances forced its doors to close in December 2018. The town felt abandoned.

KHN senior correspondent Sarah Jane Tribble, who grew up in southeastern Kansas, returns to her roots to ask uncomfortable questions of town leaders and the Catholic nuns who once ran Mercy to find out why the hospital, like so many others in rural America, fell upon hard times and ultimately shut down. Tribble spent more than a year returning again and again to see how the lives of people changed. From a low-income senior who struggles to get to dialysis to the CrossFit-loving town manager and the nurse who became the hospital’s last president, their stories are full of grit and hope. Along the way, Tribble finds that the notion that every community needs a hospital deserves questioning.

St. Louis Public Radio midday host Greg Munteanu contributed original music, mixing and sound design for the podcast, and David Kovaluk, a visual communication specialist at the station, provided illustrations, design and logo art.

In future seasons, other storytellers will lead the reporting to highlight overlooked parts of America and show how health system failures can ripple through the social fabric of a community.

Troubles similar to those in Fort Scott are plaguing rural areas all over America. More than 130 rural hospitals have closed over the past decade, including 18 in 2019 alone. These days, the added pressures of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic have forced even more small, rural hospitals to close their doors for good — 15 in the first eight months of 2020.

“When Sarah Jane shared her reporting on the fallout from a rural hospital closing in her home state of Kansas, I said, ‘Wow, this has to be a podcast,’” said KHN Editor-in-Chief Elisabeth Rosenthal. “I’m so thrilled that St. Louis Public Radio has jumped in wholeheartedly with us to make it happen!”

“Where It Hurts” is KHN’s third podcast project and the first to employ a narrative storytelling approach. Listen to the “Where It Hurts” trailer and find more information at whereithurts.show.

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