City, county step forward to spark a county renewal

Thursday night’s annual banquet for Thrive Allen County set benchmarks for the organization it will find nigh impossible to match in the years to come.
First, the numbers. So many came it was necessary to post parking guides at the entrance to the Madison Avenue Steak & Chops parking lot to keep traffic on U.S. 54 flowing. About 300 men and women crowded in. More tickets were sold than the restaurant can hold — a daring gamble that some would come down with swine flu Thursday morning and not come (a good bet.)
The gathering was surely the largest outpouring of Allen County citizens called to focus on the county’s future that has been held. Ever. Give David Toland, Thrive executive director, credit for selling blocks of tickets and letting the table-buyers fill the chairs.
That sellout crowd assured that the triumphs to follow fell on as many receptive ears as possible so the seeds planted will take root — and thrive.
The best was saved for last: The Iola City Commission and the Allen County Commission were called to the podium and announced that the city and the county would together make 2010, the “Year of the Hospital,” a determination which is highly likely to result in the construction of a new, modern hospital.
Dick Works, chairman of the county commission, put it plainly: “We must work aggressively and cooperate as a county if we are going to stop losing patients to Cha-nute, Fort Scott, Burlington and Parsons,” he declared.
Thursday night’s pledge was, of course, only the opening gun in what will be a marathon effort. But it is no secret that Allen County Hospital falls short of meeting today’s standards — and that those shortcomings send physicians seeking a place to practice elsewhere. The ability to attract and retain physicians, surgeons and other health care practitioners is practically synonymous with a commun-ity’s ability to attract the growth-oriented businesses and industries Iola must have if it is to stop its population slide and begin again to grow.
A trio of champions is now in place: Allen County Hospital itself; the Allen County Commission and the Iola City Commission.
They will be the main players. But they will be out after legions of workers and supporters. Iola civic and social organizations should consider naming hospital committees now, to be ready to dip their oar into the water and pull. Every call for volunteers should be over-subscribed.
It is no exaggeration to say that Iola’s turning point is at hand; that making Allen County Hospital a drawing card is the greatest challenge the community has faced in its post-gas-boom history. Success will spark a steady increase in population; an economic and social rebirth. Failure isn’t an option.

— Emerson Lynn, jr.