Since 2010, 82 rural hospitals across the country have closed, in part due to changes in policies that tend to reward hospitals that do a large volume of business. Fortunately, Utah’s rural hospitals have managed to escape a similar fate.
But, Matt McCullough, Director of the Office of Primary Care and Rural Health (OPCRH) Utah Department of Health (UDOH), warns external factors could drastically change that situation.
“Changes in the way rural hospitals are reimbursed from volume to value, the impact of new federal regulations, and changes to Medicaid and Medicare could drastically impact the bottom lines of rural hospitals in Utah,” said McCullough.
Rural communities depend on these small hospitals for not only the healthcare services they provide but also for the value they bring to the area’s economy in terms of jobs, real estate prices, tax revenue and population growth. As a result, McCullough added, “We need to pause and recognize the outstanding work of the hospital administrators and the organizations that support them for this achievement.”
Due to the critical services that are provided in Utah’s rural communities, Utah Governor Gary Herbert has declared Nov. 12-18 as Rural Health Week in Utah, and the Utah Office of Primary Care and Rural Health (OPCRH) is celebrating with several activities, including its annual Rural Photo Contest (information on the contest can be found at http://health.utah.gov/primarycare/?p=photo), and the Project Clean Webinar (CMS project to reduce opioid overdoses). Through the declaration, the Governor calls for increased promotion and enhanced collaborative efforts to continue to improve the health of those who live, work, and play in rural Utah.
As part of Utah Rural Health Week, OPCRH will recognize three Utah rural hospitals that have ranked nationally for the quality of their patient care during the year. These facilities include Garfield Memorial Hospital in Panguitch, Utah, Castleview Hospital in Price, Utah, and Bear River Valley Hospital in Tremonton, Utah. OPCRH also will recognize HealthInsight and the Utah Hospital Association with 2017 OPCRH Partner Awards for their enduring partnership and collaboration on improving the quality and financial stability of rural hospitals in Utah.
The Office of Primary Care and Rural Health offers programs that support Critical Access Hospitals (hospitals with up to 25 beds), Small Rural Hospitals (hospitals with up to 49 beds), and Rural Health Clinics (primary care access points, especially for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries). One of these programs is the Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility Program, which was established by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 and is designed to encourage the development of cooperative systems of care in rural areas, joining together Critical Access Hospitals, emergency medical service (EMS) providers, clinics, and health practitioners to increase efficiency and quality of care.
For more information about rural health in Utah, visit http://health.utah.gov/primarycare.