Hospital leaders emphasize need for the strong rural hospitals

Posted September 26, 2013 at 9:52 am

Leaders from Cedar County Memorial Hospital (CCMH) recently returned from Washington, D.C., where they visited with members of the state’s congressional delegation about the importance of Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) to health care access and rural economics in Missouri. Missouri’s 35 CAHs, including CCMH, provide an oversized value to the state, creating access to health care, economic security for families and seniors, and jobs to rural communities across the nation.

Jana Witt, CCMH CEO, and Carla Gilbert, CCMH Director of Finance, participated in the Missouri Hospital Association (MHA)-sponsored Federal Advocacy Team Visit to Washington, D.C., Sept. 10-11.

“I appreciate the efforts MHA put into organizing the 2013 Federal Advocacy Team Visit. Approximately 60 leaders representing Missouri’s rural hospitals attended,” said Jana Witt. “We had face time with Senator Claire McCaskill, Senator Roy Blunt and Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler and were able to speak directly with them about issues negatively impacting our organizations and rural health care in Missouri.”

CAHs serve as high quality access points for around-the-clock emergency services, inpatient and outpatient services, as well as opportunities to access specialists without incurring tremendous costs in time and travel for those in need. CAHs make it possible for patients to receive care at home in their rural communities where they can be surrounded by family and other social support.

Missouri’s delegation to Washington, D.C., has consistently supported the CAH program. However, an item in the President’s recent budget proposal would take away CAH status from CAHs within 10 miles of another hospital. The problem being that “hospital” is not defined in the budget proposal as one providing acute care and could result in loss of CAH status for CAHs within 10 miles of other types of hospitals such psychiatric (such as Southwest Regionaly Mental Health), rehabilitation, long-term, and children’s hospitals that in no way offer the same services. In addition, a recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General has recommended changes to the CAH program that could undermine the ability of CAHs in Missouri to continue to serve their communities.

Missouri’s CAHs provide nearly 10 percent of the state’s inpatient hospital care and nine percent of emergency care. In many of the communities they serve, CAHs are major employers and economic engines.

“The CAH program was created in 1997 by the federal Balanced Budget Act as a safety net program to assure access to health care services in rural areas,” said Jana Witt. “In Cedar County, our poverty level and percentage of residents over the age of 65 surpass the state averages. We are serving individuals that often lack the means to travel elsewhere for medical care, particularly on an emergency basis. The CAH program is one that is actually doing the job for which it was created. If CAH status is taken away, these hospitals will return to a payment system that resulted in hundreds of hospital closures in the 1980s and 1990s.”