Enumclaw hospital succeeds in bid to receive "critical access" designation
April 30, 2009 · Updated 2:31 PM
Enumclaw Community Hospital has succeeded in becoming designated a Critical Access Hospital, joining 37 other hospitals across the state of Washington and nearly 900 nationally.
The designation is effective Nov. 1, according to Dennis Popp, hospital administrator.
It was announced in July that ECH was in the application process.
"Becoming a CAH will have far-reaching implications," Popp said, noting the financial benefits provide the potential for other improvements.
"The new changes in the Medicare law will improve our payment and reimbursement rates," Popp explained. "In turn, that will help to guarantee a steady flow of funds, which will ensure future financial stability and enable new construction and medical technology projects."
Dr. Robert Gramann, ECH board president, agreed the "critical access" designation holds great promise for the hospital.
"Achieving the designation is wonderful news," Gramann said. "It is vital for the financial well-being of the hospital in these times of diminishing reimbursement and increasing costs of doing business."
The Critical Access Hospital Program was created by the l997 federal Balanced Budget Act.
"The goal of the program is to assure access to healthcare services in rural areas," said Brenda Suiter, director of rural and public health for the Washington State Hospital Association. She said CAH hospitals receive significant financial benefits because they are "paid for the cost of care, as opposed to the less-than-cost payments that hospitals typically receive."
Such financial reimbursement is particularly important for hospitals with a large Medicare and Medicaid population, Suiter noted. While Medicaid routinely pays hospitals significantly less than Medicare, payment to designated CAH facilities is cost-based.
According to Beverly Court of the Washington State Department of Health, CAH hospitals and the communities they serve benefit from the program. "CAH assistance helps hospitals take the steps necessary to identify, retain and expand critical healthcare services. Last year's windstorm that hit the Enumclaw area is a good example of how isolated communities can become and how critical it is to have trauma and emergency services available locally," she said.
The process leading to the CAH designation is a lengthy one and requires hospitals to meet stringent requirements related to quality assurance and quality improvement, emergency care, staffing requirements, diagnostic service and providing specific required services, Popp said.
This year has been an important one for the hospital's future strategic planning. "Achieving CAH and Trauma Level V designations is one way the hospital's administration and the board of directors are positioning ECH for the future," Popp said. In addition, ECH has joined the Rural Healthcare Quality Network of 30 Washington state Critical Access Hospitals, which will allow hospital staff to compare its treatment practices and outcomes with hospitals of similar size.
The hospital also recently joined the Western Washington Rural Health Care Cooperative, a group of eight Critical Access Hospitals in western Washington that are working to address some shared, unique issues. "We will have the opportunity of benchmarking our performance with these facilities and sharing resources in the future," Popp said.