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SeaBoard Foods Pork Processing Plant in Guymon OK employs 2600, invests $100 million in plant but can’t do anything about hospital for town of 11,000 with 840 COVID cases.

2020-07-09

photo by David Mark courtesy of pixabay.com

This town and its hospital was the subject of an article in Medpage Today dated July 5.  The hospital is called Texas County Memorial Hospital, and it has been in trouble for several years.  The hospital has been run by management companies which have extracted fees but failed to come up with plans that developed sufficient funding to keep an obstetric wing open (it closed in 2018 after losing $1M a year) or to stock emergency drugs like rattlesnake antitoxin or Activase for strokes and heart attacks.

The town of Guymon has a population 11,000– it is the county seat of Texas County– and its largest employer is a pork-processing plant that employs 2,700 people.  The plant is run by Seaboard Foods Corporation and has been there at least 25 years.  The town is isolated, to say the least; the nearest other hospital is 40 miles away.  There is nothing around Guymon except empty prairie and a few circular irrigated fields.  Liberal, Kansas is the nearest town of any size, with 20,000 people.

The issue with Guymon is that Seaboard Foods in February 2020 planned to spend $100 million on the pork-processing plant there, including $20 on real property and $80 on capital improvements.  They agreed to pay $1 million in 2018 to settle a civil suit by the federal government for hiring “undocumented” foreign workers (the plant is staffed by people from multiple foreign countries.)

Yet they couldn’t spend anything to help the hospital.  This is important because there was a COVID-19 outbreak at the plant this spring.  As of May 21, there were 641 positive tests, almost a quarter of the employees.  In the county (which has only twice as many people altogether as live in the town) there were 820 cases and four deaths reported.  Supposedly no-one at the plant died.  The father of one worker, who was 56 and had been recovering from coronary bypass surgery, did die– despite never leaving the house except to walk the dog while wearing a mask.

The hospital was unable to treat the people who died because they couldn’t accommodate them with their antiquated ventilation system and physical plant.  The hospital laid off half of its almost 200-person staff due to the financial problems over the past few years.   Patients who needed hospitalization for the virus were often transferred by ambulance to larger hospitals a hundred miles away.  With $1.3 million in emergency funds from the US Army Corps of Engineers, the hospital was able to convert the closed maternity wing to a COVID ward– but not until June.

Parenthetically, there has been scientific speculation that the low temperatures (4 degrees Celsius) at which meat processing plants work are ideal for transmission of coronavirus because the virus survives longer outside the body at low temperature and high humidity.  This is one reason (of many) why there are such huge outbreaks of COVID-19 at these plants.

Why didn’t Seaboard Foods put some money into the hospital?  Because they had to make a profit on pork processing for human consumption.  By the way, the county went for he-who-must-not-be-named in a big way in 2016, partly because most of the people who work at the plant can’t vote.  It seems to me that the company should be fined at least $1.3 million to recoup the emergency funds the feds spent on the hospital.  At least.

The problem here is something that conservatives are really good at: socializing costs and privatizing profits.  This is why Walmart can pay minimum wage, and then its employees have to get Medicaid and food stamps to survive.  This is not right.  Poor people shop at Walmart, and the federal government subsidizes the cost.  Meanwhile, the family that owns Walmart is one of the richest families in the world.  This is not right.

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