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'Where It Hurts' Podcast

‘No Mercy’ Chapter 6: Trickle-Down Heartache Reaches the Next Generation in a Rural Town With No Hospital

'No Mercy' is Season One of 'Where It Hurts,' a podcast about overlooked parts of the country where cracks in the health system leave people without the care they need. Our first destination is Fort Scott, Kansas.

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Josh is 17. He said he smokes marijuana. He struggles with anger.

He’s also juggling some extraordinary responsibilities for a teenager. Josh’s mother died of a drug overdose when he was 3 years old and he has lived with his grandparents ever since. When his grandfather’s heart started failing, Josh and his grandmother followed as his grandfather was shuttled from one regional hospital to another. The family couldn’t pay their light bill and struggled to find the money to pay for gas for the car. They wanted to stay nearby as Josh’s grandfather recovered in the hospital, but paying for a hotel was another financial burden.

Josh said he had to be there to help even though it meant missing school.

“I’m just taking care of my family. I’m doing what I was raised and taught to do,” he said. “Gotta survive. Family sticks together.”

To protect his privacy and because Josh was a minor when he shared his story, we are not including his last name.

In Chapter 6 of “No Mercy,” he talks about the health care challenges his family faces — and his own struggles growing up in a town where drugs are readily available but jobs aren’t.

The podcast also spotlights new health services now available in Fort Scott. Mercy Hospital, which closed at the end of 2018, did not provide addiction or behavioral health services, but the new community health center in town does.

“I get the privilege of working with hardworking, blue-collared folks and they oftentimes view, you know, depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder or battles with addiction as a weakness,” said Eric Thomason, director of addiction treatment and behavioral health services.

“And there’s no hardworking person that wants to just sit here and admit that they have a problem. And so a lot of times we avoid it. And what happens when we avoid chronic illness, regardless of if it’s diabetes, hypertension or depression, is it gets worse.”

Thomason said part of the health center’s work is convincing people to feel comfortable enough to come in and get help.

Click here to read the episode transcript.

Josh, who has lived with his grandparents since he was 3, said he dropped out of high school, in part, to help them navigate health care. He left school around the same time Mercy Hospital Fort Scott closed.(Sarah Jane Tribble/KHN)

“Where It Hurts” is a podcast collaboration between KHN and St. Louis Public Radio. Season One extends the storytelling from Sarah Jane Tribble’s award-winning series, “No Mercy.”

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Related Topics

Multimedia Public Health Rural Health States