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Distance saves hospital

MEADVILLE – The difference between life and death for FranklinCounty Memorial Hospital turned out to be about 4,200 feet.

FCMH Chief Executive Officer Sonny Dickey said the hospital wasallowed to convert to a critical access facility because it met afederal distance requirement by eight-tenths of a mile – a hair’swidth on a map and the most important distance in the county to thehospital’s 120 employees.

“We just knew we’d have to be a critical access hospital if wewere going to survive,” Dickey said. “I think the most importantthing was the certification of our mileage.”

The life-saving critical access classification was granted toFCMH because it was 15.8 miles away from Fayette’s Jefferson CountyHospital via Highway 33 – a two-lane state highway considered bythe federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to be asecondary road.

CMS rules for reimbursement classification states that afacility must be more than 30 miles away from the nearest hospitalon a primary road and more than 15 miles away on a secondary road.Dickey said FCMH administrators had long known that Brookhaven’sKing’s Daughters Medical Center was within a 30-mile drive on U.S.Highway 84 – a four-lane primary road – but they were unaware ofthe secondary road rule, which was added as a guideline onlyrecently.

Dickey said District 92 Rep. Becky Currie discovered theimportant fact while seeking help for FCMH from the MississippiHospital Association.

“When I called MHA, I just said I was having a hard timeunderstanding why (FCMH) can’t be a critical access hospital,”Currie said. “They’re a good ways away from Brookhaven and Natchez- what are the qualifications for this and how much did they missit by? He started telling me, and when it came to secondary roads,I thought, ‘That’s gonna be our answer.'”

Currie said she rushed the discovery back to Dickey, who clearedthe odometer in his vehicle and drove from FCMH to the parking lotof JCH in Fayette. The distance had to be at least 15 miles – itwas 15.8.

“It’s very official,” Currie said. “It’s very technical, verytime-consuming, and there’s no cheating.”

With the necessary mileage known, Dickey said he requested acritical access application from CMS and, with the help ofMississippi Rural Health Association Director Mendel Kemp, had theMississippi Department of Transportation make the 15.8 mile driveand certify the mileage.

Dickey said FCMH passed all the necessary tests andqualifications and is now awaiting a letter of approval from CMS tobe officially recognized as critical access. Dickey said the letteris only a formality, and once it arrives this summer, thehospital’s new classification will be backdated to May 1.