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Code red for rural hospitals

Staff writer

Marion County hospital administrators know the reasons why a recently-released national study shows an increased number of at-risk rural hospitals.

The study, conducted by iVantage Health Analytics, concluded that 31 of Kansas’ 107 rural hospitals are at risk.

More than half of vulnerable hospitals serve older, sicker, poorer and less educated patients, the study reported.

“Last year Kansas had 17 at-risk hospitals, so the number is growing,” said Jeremy Ensey, CEO at St. Luke Hospital in Marion.

Reductions in Medicare reimbursement is part of the problem.

“Some concerning things are taking place in healthcare recently that negatively affect hospitals,” said Marion Regier, CEO of Hillsboro Community Hospital. “We have experienced the same decreases in Medicare reimbursement that all hospitals have with the two percent reductions due to Medicare sequestration,” Regier said.

But a decision by Kansas legislators made the problem worse, she said.

“Failure to expand Medicaid in Kansas has caused us to receive less money in reimbursements from Medicaid and provide more uncompensated care,” Regier continued. Our population is aging. However, in the past two years we have experienced a 24 percent increase in patients under the age of 65.”

Ensey said all rural hospitals are in the same boat.

“We face reducing reimbursement,” Ensey said. “What we charge is not nearly what we are reimbursed.”

With Medicare reimbursement falling, hospitals that rely heavily upon Medicare reimbursement are feeling the cuts.

The challenge to local hospitals is likely to increase in at least one area, that of aging residents.

Marion County’s proportion of elderly residents, 1 in 6, is projected to rise over the coming 50 years to 1 in 3, according to Wichita State University’s Center for Economic Development and Business Research.

“One thing we have is the support of Kansas Hospital Association,” Ensey said.

KHA is studying other models of rural hospitals in an effort to find a way to make rural hospitals less vulnerable, Ensey said.

“A hospital is vital to the community in the number of jobs it creates,” Ensey said.

Regier agreed.

“Hospitals are economic engines to Kansas communities and are critical to sustaining the overall resources of the community and state,” Regier said. “Hospitals support job growth.”

That’s not to mention the medical services they provide.

Ensey said St. Luke is working to expand the services they are able to offer by adding such services as telemedicine consultations and new specialists.

“The stability and quality of medical staff is one of the keys to sustainability,” Regier said. “The recent increase in patients and revenue is directly related to the addition of the physicians and the physician’s assistant that we have here in Hillsboro.”

A soon-to-launch building project at Hillsboro will also help revenues, Regier said.

“The building of the new hospital will maximize our Medicare reimbursement and provide efficiencies in the provision of health care along with the hospital and clinic under one roof,” Regier said. “It will also play a role in the addition of future medical staff as our need increases. Collaboration with other hospitals and providers will become even more important than it is today as we all work together to keep our communities healthy.”

Last modified Feb. 11, 2016

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