Baker: Rural hospital initiative seeks to prevent closures, keep communities healthy

By Bill O’Boyle - [email protected]
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WILKES-BARRE — Approximately 30 of Pennsylvania’s 42 rural hospitals are currently at risk, as many are caught between the demand for high-cost services and low reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid, according to information from state Sen. Lisa Baker’s office.

The state Department of Health has responded to this emergency by developing a Rural Health Program to offer the support these hospitals need to be successful, a press release says. A bill sponsored by Baker, R-Lehman Township, to implement the plan was passed by the Senate last week.

“Rural hospital closures would diminish health care access and would have a devastating economic impact,” Baker said. “Our communities are understandably worried.”

Specifically, Baker’s legislation would create the Rural Health Redesign Center to develop a more predictable payment plan and create a fixed budget to stabilize reimbursements. Support would also be provided to offer new community health services and programs to meet key needs such as behavioral health and substance abuse. It would be funded by a $25 million grant from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, as well as funds from private sources moving forward.

The Hospital and Health System Association of Pennsylvania welcomes the assistance.

“Pennsylvania is among the most rural states in the union, and its rural hospitals face unique challenges that include barriers to access to care, clinical shortages, and unreliable funding sources,” said Andy Carter, the association’s president and chief executive officer. “This is an important step forward in helping rural hospitals achieve the financial stability that is required to adapt to the changing needs of the communities they serve.”

Sara F. Adornato, chief executive officer at Barnes-Kasson County Hospital in Susquehanna Depot, is encouraged by the goals set for rural health and rural communities.

“If we can provide a more predictable revenue stream, we will be able to concentrate on the delivery of health care in our communities, focusing on quality and preventive care, as well as assessing and responding to the unique needs of the communities we serve,” she said.

David L. Hoff, chief executive officer of Wayne Memorial Hospital and Health System in Honesdale, also believes the legislation is a positive development.

“We are pleased to hear of the Senate action,” he said. “Wayne Memorial Hospital is seriously considering participation, which puts renewed financial emphasis on keeping a rural community healthy.”

The bill now moves to the House where Rep. Tina Pickett, R-Towanda, has introduced companion legislation.

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By Bill O’Boyle

[email protected]

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.