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Citizens Petition Lawmakers About Rural Hospitals

Posted on Friday, August 21st, 2015

 

Health Education - Marietta Mayor Jerry Cochran and others
conduct an assessment of health services and health needs
in Love County during July and August.

Rural Hospitals Under Study - Richard Barker, right,
administrator of Mercy Health/Love County Hospital, welcomes
rural health consultants Corrie Kaiser, Nichole Nielson, and
Lara Brooks during a citizen-led assessment of the county's
health services and health needs.

A group of citizens completed a triennial assessment of health services and health needs in Love County on August 11. Among their findings:

Local Health Care Liked

Mercy Health/Love County Hospital, Clinic and EMS is highly regarded, with 9 out of 10 patients reporting satisfaction with the care received. The ratings were gleaned from a written survey conducted during the assessment.

The overall results among 215 patients surveyed was a 94 percent favorability rating for the doctors, family nurse practitioners, and physician assistants, and 91.5 percent for the hospital overall.

Financial Health Threatened

While the hospital currently has no short- or long-term debt, the assessment group was worried about the future of local medical care. Reduced reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid are the major issues.

As its first priority, the group wrote to local area representatives in the U.S. Congress and the Oklahoma Legislature appealing for actions in relief of rural hospitals.

The letter asks Congress to lift the federal budget sequestration that has been in effect since 2013. Sequestration has reduced Medicare cost reimbursements for rural "critical access" hospitals to 99 percent from the statutory rate of 101 percent.

That means the hospital stands to lose money instead of make a marginal amount sufficient to stay open, as the law intended, when serving Medicare patients.

"How many times can we sustain such a loss and still upgrade our hospital and keep the quality going?" asked Richard Barker, hospital administrator. He is the state's longest-tenured hospital administrator, with 25 years of experience.

During the assessment, a news report in the Oklahoman stated that more than half (56 percent) of Oklahoma's rural hospitals operated at a financial loss in the last five years.

Barker said the local hospital's financial success to date stemmed from careful budgeting of county tax money and other income sources and benefiting from contractual arrangements for services with area healthcare partners, including the Chickasaw Nation and Mercy Health System.

The letter also asks the Oklahoma Legislature to accept federal funding for the expansion of Medicaid (Soonercare) in Oklahoma. Expansion of Medicaid would put more low-income patients in a position to pay for their medical care from the hospital and clinic.

"These federal funds are taxes we have already paid to the government as citizens, and we need to bring them back to Oklahoma to insure low-income patients and keep the hospital alive," Yvone McGinnis said in support of the petition.

Oklahoma has been eligible for two years to receive the federal dollars for Medicaid expansion, but the Oklahoma Governor and Legislature have so far refused to act.

Federal funds would cover 100 percent of the cost of expansion initially and taper off gradually to 90 percent of the annual costs by 2020, with the state paying the 10 percent balance.

Among patients already enrolled in Soonercare, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority has not been reimbursing rural hospitals for care received during skilled nursing or "swing bed" stays. This departure from the norm has created an area of uncompensated care, Barker said.

McGinnis, retired lead nurse of the Love County Health Department, said all Oklahomans should care whether rural hospitals are forced out of business, because their lives can depend on a hospital's survival.

"If you have a stroke or a serious car accident in Love County, the emergency care you receive here in Marietta can make the difference in life and death," she said.

Population Health

The health needs assessment group recommended a summer feeding program for children and segmented health education for children, adults, and seniors. They expressed concerns about the evidence of poor nutrition in children ad the early onset of chronic, preventable diseases.

Statistics presented to the group showed the leading cause of death in the county is heart disease, followed by cancer and respiratory disease. In overall health, Love County's population ranks 63rd among the state's 77 counties.

Health Care a Big Business

The health sector of the county provides direct and indirect employment to 310 people, with an economic impact to the community of more than $17,000,000 per year, the assessment group learned.

Nonprofit hospitals conduct a health needs assessment every three years. The last such assessment in Love County was in 2012.

Guiding the assessment were consultants Lara Brooks and Corrie Kaiser form the Oklahoma Office of Rural Health, along with Nicole Nielson from the OSU Center for Rural Health.

Assessment participants met four times in July and August to complete their study.

Participants included Lawrence Anderson, Connie Barker, Richard Barker, Carla Bolton, Sam Barrick, Ron Bond, Wayne Bond, Michelle Clift, Alice Cochran, Jerry Cochran, Lindsey Cox, Vickie Crossland, Danny Dvorak, Linda Ehrhardt, Daren Flanagan, Charlene Frazier, Jimmie Frazier, Connie Graham, Marty Grisham, Sue Hambrick, Bruce Hammond, Janeane Hartman, Media Hicks, Colleen Hobbs, Kimberly Honeycutt, Linda Hyman, Sheila Isenberg, Ron Jacobs, Margie King, Jesse Kirk, Joyce Kirk, Misti Kirk, Eyvonna Lemons, Michele Lively, KorDale Lornes, Paulette Manning, Randi McCann, Yvone McGinnis, Dale McMillin, Sara Metcalf, Lenna Radde, Shelly Russell, Helen Ryan, Jolene Saum, Barbara Sessions, Don Sessions, Pat Sheehan, Tracey Smithwick, Brandi Straka, Betty Sue Tow, Becky Watkins, Lacy Westfall, Carolyn Willis, Van Willis, and Tammy Young.

Click here to read the final report for the 2015 assessment.