New designation major help for hospital

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, August 5, 2009

MEADVILLE – A high probability of good news for Franklin CountyMemorial Hospital finally rolled over to certainty last month whenthe facility was officially designated a critical access hospitalby the federal government.

On Tuesday the health care principals from that facilitygathered to raise their glasses and celebration thedesignation.

Mendel Kemp, director of the Mississippi Hospital Association’sCenter for Rural Health, said FCMH’s official letter ofcertification for critical access – which arrived in final formfrom the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in thelast week of July – will open new doors for the small, ruralfacility.

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“All these services you can provide that your community needs,you’ll be in a better position for now,” he said during a smallceremony at the hospital Tuesday. “We’ve had about 20 hospitalsclose in the last 10-15 years, but this facility will not be one ofthem. And the whole state is watching you. They see you didsomething – you didn’t just sit there.”

With the official certification as a critical access hospital,Kemp said FCMH would now receive Medicare reimbursements based onthe cost of patient care per day. The diagnosis-based reimbursementsystem formerly used at the hospital paid the same amount perpatient, no matter the length of stay, and caused a protractedfinancial drain on the facility, which sees a patient body that is80 percent Medicare.

Now, Kemp said, FCMH will be reimbursed 101 percent for itsMedicare patients, a financial plan that will deliver long-soughtstability for the hospital and its more than 120 employees, andallow serious expansion of services and facilities for the firsttime.

FCMH becomes the 1,236th critical access hospital in the countryand the 29th in the state, he said. Approximately 25 percent of allAmerica’s hospitals are critical access, and for good reason.

“Critical access hospitals are mostly out in the Midwest whereit’s really remote,” Kemp said. “The federal government knew ruralhospitals couldn’t compete, but they found out you needed servicesfor patients who didn’t need big hospitals. They developed thisprogram to keep these hospitals going, and pay them more becausethey’re critically needed.”

FCMH Chief Executive Officer and Meadville Mayor Sonny Dickeysaid the hospital has needs of its own, and now that criticalaccess is a federally stamped reality, those needs will begin to bemet one-by-one.

The first step for the hospital will be the improvement of its”swing bed” program, a Medicare program designed to allow patientsextended recovery time before being discharged.

Dickey said the program allows patients who are recovered enoughto leave larger hospitals – but really not quite well enough to gohome – to remain under the watchful eyes of medical personnel foradditional days. As a critical access hospital, FCMH can run theprogram as much as possible and be reimbursed for every day ofcare.

Dickey said short-term goals for FCMH, which he hopes toaccomplish during the next year, include the opening of a ruralhealth clinic in nearby Roxie that would include a nursepractitioner and staff, and relocating the adjacent Family MedicalGroup and its VA services into a new building on the same grounds,but closer to the highway.

Additional goals for FCMH include the expansion of physicaltherapy services and the addition of wound care, cardiology andsenior care outpatient programs, Dickey said. The hospital hasalready begun a conversion of its radiology department to digitalequipment and hired a public relations officer to promote thefacility.

“Words can’t explain how happy we are,” Dickey said. “When weget that first wire transfer…”

That first transfer, which Dickey said should arrive inSeptember, will be a cash-wrapped blessing.

Wade Walters, owner of FCMH manager Performance Management Groupand Medicare reimbursement specialist, said the first reimbursementcheck as a critical access facility is expected to be in theneighborhood of $1 million. He said the critical accessdesignation, though awarded in July, is back-dated to May 1, andthe hospital has gone four months with no reimbursements while thecritical access shift has been executed.

“That’s in the summer months, too,” Walters said of the bigcheck. “That’s low.”

Walters also addressed the most talked-about possibility amongFCMH’s celebrators Tuesday – the construction of a new hospital.Dickey attributed the buzz to wishful thinking, saying talk of sucha job is far too early for consideration.

Walters agreed, but pointed out that, when the time comes, hecan make such a project work.

“We could get there. I’ve got a model,” he said. “Once we getthe volumes up here, we could make it work. But it would take fiveyears just to get all the details worked out.”

Members of the FCMH family will be working toward that loftygoal. But for now, most are just relieved to have lived through thetough times and reached the critical access designation.

“It’s been a struggle for rural hospitals in the last severalyears,” said Thomas Griffith, president of the FCMH Board ofTrustees. “It’s going to be a big asset for the hospital and ourcommunity.”

FCMH’s legislative guardians were also present Tuesday. District37 Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez, and District 92 Rep. Becky Currie,R-Brookhaven, were both credited by FCMH administrators as playingcrucial roles in negotiations with MHA and CMS that led to thehospital’s critical access designation.