MEXICO - The Audrain Community Hospital looks like a normal functioning facility.
The employees still hold the keys to the building; the machines are still running; the beds are still made; and the gift shop is still stocked - all sitting ready and expectant for the return of patients.
But the future of the hospital remains uncertain.
Noble Health suspended its services to the Audrain and Callaway Community Hospitals in March. Now, more than nine months later, staff and employees are slowly starting to lose hope that the hospital will ever reopen again.
Records reveal multiple issues and violations
Audrain and Callaway Community Hospitals officially closed in September when Platinum Health systems, which took over after Noble, fired its employees and closed the facility.
In an open records request, Target 8 found that issues with hospital management span back more than a year.
Noble Health acquired Audrain Community Hospital in early 2020. Records show that by early 2021, the hospital received multiple violations for not having a governing body.
A survey completed on April 15, 2021, showed no governing body for the Audrain Community Hospital.
According to hospital law, a governing body must appoint a chief executive officer who is responsible for managing the hospital. The records state “the CEO failed to ensure compliance with the COP [Condition of Participation] of Governing Body as evidenced by the ineffective management of the hospital that resulted in the failure to meet applicable regulatory requirements.”
Even though Noble Health assumed control of the hospital a year before, records show they weren't prepared to control the hospital.
Records also show Noble lost records during the transition.
“When the hospital transitioned from the previous owner, she lost all content related to event reports, including email documentation related to all previous investigations," the records state.
The records said previous owners took all signs with patients' rights on them, and the current hospital ownership said they were rebranding new ones with their logo.
The hospital used big packets of patients' rights information that was discussed with patients and given to them to keep, but “since the change of hospital ownership, those packets were gone.”
When the hospital switched owners, the previous Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system did not hold patient information. The records show that when the hospital “switched to the new EMR system, it took a while for it to start up. [A staff member] stated they still had a difficult time programming the EMR with important patient information."
Then in June, the COP of patients' rights were found to be back in compliance.
Amy O'Brien, chief executive officer at Audrain Community Hospital, said in a phone call with KOMU 8 that those documents weren't lost: There were just certain people who did not have access to the documents during the transition between hospital ownership.
Employees step up to help community
A year later, after Noble had shut down the hospital, the employees are running the show. Some employees are still working with their patients, and others have now lost hope after Noble left them unpaid for months.
Dr. Joseph Corrado, chief of surgery at Audrain Community Hospital, has kept up with his patients in Columbia since the hospital closed. But he is much farther away than his patients would prefer.
"None of the patients that I see in my office want to go and have their procedures done in Columbia," Corrado said. "They like being here in Mexico, at their hometown hospital. They like the people that are taking care of them."
Valerie Brightwell has used the community hospital for years, and she said it's dangerous to not have one close for emergency situations.
"My mom is in an assisted-living home, and they have to go all the way to Columbia to see the doctor," she said. "Somebody could pass away before they could get to the hospital. I had a friend, her husband died of a heart attack [as] soon as he got to the hospital."
Corrado, who has worked at the Audrain Community Hospital for 40 years, said he has never seen anything like this.
"This is the first time that anything like this has happened," the doctor said. "So we're anxiously awaiting with the support of the community of reopening our facility."
And the community has been the only one supporting, with no word from Platinum in months.
The last time employees heard from Platinum was when they received a notice of termination on Sept. 8. Since then, employees say they haven't received paychecks for nearly two months.
Pastor Zane Whorton of First Christian Church in Mexico said in a time when a community could feel helpless, he tries to bring faith and hope.
"Everybody asked, 'What do we do now? What do we do now?' Especially when they feel powerless and helpless," he said. "But prayer is something that people can use to go on. We actually are invested in this as a community."
Nearly two months after word that all of its employees were terminated, the Audrain County community joined together in prayer for the hospital, on Nov. 6.
"There just doesn't ever seem to be a break," Whorton said. "[So we're] showing the community can come together and go, 'No, we're not going to be people of dread and fear. We're going to become people of hope.' That's a powerful statement."
Future plans for the hospital
Hope is on the way - at least for now.
Mexico attorney Lou Leonatti says he is in talks with a potential new purchaser of the Audrain Community Hospital.
"We are having discussions right now with some folks who are doing some due diligence," Leonatti said. "So we refer to it as 'Project Sunrise.' Because nine months ago, we could see the sun setting, and now we believe we see the sun rising, and that's important."
O'Brien said she can confirm the hospital is waiting on a new purchaser and is in discussion with one.
After the state granted an extension on its hospital license back in September, the hospital now has until Dec. 20 to reopen its doors.
Corrado said that's what the community needs most right now.
"We have several patients that are elderly, you know, over 70, and 80, and 90 years old, and it's hard for them to have to make arrangements and possibly get transportation," Corrado said. "It's a burden. They like it when they can come to the office here in town, and they can come to a hospital where they know everybody, and the patients and the nurses that take care of them, they know personally. So that makes a big difference."
Corrado said when a new purchaser is ready, the hospital is ready. With 100% of physicians ready to get back to work, and reinstate employee faith in the hospital.
"I think that we're going to go slow and make sure we do it right and get back to a vibrant hospital again," Corrado said.