Critical Access Hospitals were designated “Critical Access” for a reason

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, November 24, 2015

If Congress does not act soon, rural Americans in Mississippi could be significantly harmed by additional hospital closures.
Our U.S. Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, and Representative Steven Palazzo can stop the flood of rural hospital closures and provide needed access to care for rural Americans. Medicare (CMS) has targeted the closure of rural and Critical Access Hospitals in 2 ways. One is the use of outdated and incomplete data in the development and analysis of reports. And the second is the “re-definition” and “re-interpretation” of existing regulations, thereby ignoring the publics’ and congressional intent of the Critical Access Hospital Act.
Fifty-three rural hospitals have closed; 283 more are on the brink of closure. Since January 2013, more rural hospitals have closed than in the previous 10 years combined. Last week, Pioneer Community Hospital of Newton Mississippi announced it would be closing December 1, 2015 due solely to CMS’s “revised interpretation” of a longstanding regulation.
If Congress doesn’t act to stop the bleeding and prevent further closures of rural hospitals, 700,000 patients would lose direct access to care and one of them could be you or your family. It’s clear continuous cuts in hospital payments have taken their toll, forcing closures and leaving many of our nation’s most susceptible citizens without timely access to care.
Rural hospitals are critical to the 62 million rural Americans. They provide much-needed health care access for the vulnerable populations of older and sicker Americans who live throughout rural America, and create a strong economic and social anchor for the community. For example, Pearl River County Hospital, a Critical Access Hospital, supports more than 400 jobs and provides $14 Million in wages, salaries and benefits on average within our local community. The vast majority of these people are Pearl River County residents.
Pearl River County’s Critical Access Hospital not only provides routine patient care for the local residents it provides Emergency Care at its Level 4 Trama Center for local residents and everyone else who works, goes to school, visits, or drives nearby.
The Rural and Critical Access Hospitals in the 3 counties north of the coast now form the backstop and first line of support and emergency treatment for hospital, nursing home, and family evacuees fleeing from hurricanes targeting our coastal counties and cities.
When the hospital closes in a town; families, friends, students, employees are forced to seek care outside the local community, sometimes travelling long distances in emergencies. Hospitals are a vital access point to get timely and quality care, and support local & regional economic development. One only has to look at Lumberton to see how the impact of losing the local hospital hinders economic development. If our rural hospitals close, patients will suffer, and so will the local economy.
Without congressional intervention, layoffs, wage cuts, economic loss, reduced services, or closed doors will occur in more rural communities across the nation. Rural Mississippi can’t afford these closures. Please ask your members of Congress to require CMS to re-instate their 2010 interpretations of Critical Access Hospital regulations; eliminate continued cuts to Rural and Critical Access Hospital’s; and preserve patients’ continued access to care.
Steve Vaughan, CEO/Administrator
Pearl River County Hospital and Nursing Home

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