Monday, February 22, 2016

Let the Wailing and the Gnashing of Teeth Begin

After 18-years in the News business, I can tell you the two closures that cause the greatest public outcry are public schools and hospitals.  Everyone believes that their child's school should be just two blocks away from their house--and they likely aren't going to survive if a hospital is not within sight of their home.  And now, we have both scenarios possibly playing out here in the Fox Valley.

Here in Oshkosh, there will be much consternation over the possible closure of a middle school and two elementaries--which would then be housed in the former middle school.  Oshkosh has been down this path before.  Consultants came in and re-drew school boundary lines and made recommendations on which buildings to shutter in order to increase efficiency and lower costs.  But that study--like every other study conducted by the Oshkosh School District--was permanently shelved after parents angrily attacked the recommendations and demanded that their under-filled neighborhood school remain open.  (It should be pointed out that none of those members are still on the School Board anymore--some by choice, some by the will of the "angry voters") But here we are again--about ten years later--facing the same economic challenges--and I expect the same angry parental response should the April referendum fail.

Meanwhile, in Neenah and Appleton, the long wait for a recommendation to close their ThedaCare hospitals and to replace them with a single, consolidated facility is underway.  Just like with the closure of schools in Oshkosh, shutting down a hospital will bring out those who predict doom and gloom for the cities.  Especially if Theda Clark in Neenah is not replaced with another hospital within the city limits.  If ThedaCare puts the new hospital in the new Village of Fox Crossing or the Town of Grand Chute, things will get ugly. 

One of the first "big stories" I covered after getting into radio was Bay Area Medical Center's decision to shut down one of the two hospitals it operated in Marinette and Menominee.  The ultimate recommendation was to close the smaller facility in Menominee and move all in-patient and emergency room services to Marinette.  Menominee folks predicted the end of the city because no one was going to want to drive across the river to get their healthcare.  And because the two buildings were owned by the respective counties, the fight turned political--with actual shouting matches between supervisors during joint meetings.

It should be pointed out that Menominee did not whither and die after their hospital moved across the river.  Just like Neenah and Appleton will survive when their hospitals are closed--and just like Oshkosh will move on if a few of its schools are consolidated.  But don't tell that to the Chicken Littles running around telling us the sky is already falling.

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