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Federal plan will help with hospital finances
Enumclaw Community Hospital has applied to become a Critical Access Hospital, a move that would stabilize revenues and add a level of comfort for long-range planning.
In seeking the CAH status, the Enumclaw facility is looking to join nearly 900 hospitals across the nation and 30 others in Washington.
As part of the application process, hospital administration has planned three sessions designed to provide information to the public and take input.
According to Dennis Popp, hospital administrator, earning the CAH designation would have far-reaching implications. "The new changes in the Medicare law will improve our payment and re-imbursement rates," he said. "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."
To let the public know about the plan, information sessions have been slated for noon, 3 and 7 p.m. Monday in the hospital's conference rooms 1 and 2.
The Critical Access Hospital Program was created by the l997 federal Balanced Budget Act as a safety net to assure Medicare beneficiaries access to healthcare services in rural areas. It was designed to allow more flexible staffing options and simplify billing methods. Also, a program goal was to create incentives to develop local integrated health delivery system, including acute, primary, emergency and long-term care.
Becoming a CAH is critical to the survival of rural hospitals like Enumclaw's, according to Medicare consultant George Petrie. "It is really a program that is designed to protect small hospitals," he said, explaining current payment methods work OK for larger hospitals but are rough on smaller operations.
Those with the Critical Access Hospital designation are more appropriately reimbursed, Petrie said.
Hospitals applying for CAH status must meet stringent requirements related to quality assurance and quality improvement, emergency care, staffing requirements, diagnostic service and providing specific required services, Popp said.
It's a lengthy process, Popp said, noting that ECH has joined the Rural Healthcare Quality Network of 30 Washington state Critical Access Hospitals. This has allowed the local hospital to compare its treatment practices and outcomes with hospitals of similar size.
In addition, ECH has received a Level V trauma designation, another requirement, Popp said. ECH is the only Level V designated facility in King County.
According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), it is imperative that healthcare services offered in rural communities are appropriate and that the quality is just as good as what patients might find at a regional or urban hospital. "We believe that to be true," Popp said. "Achieving CAH and Trauma Level V designations are two of the ways in which the hospital's administration and the board of directors are positioning ECH for the future."