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Rural healthcare is at a premium

Hospitals are struggling during difficult times

In these tough economic times, many businesses are struggling. Hospitals are not exempt from those struggles. At the National Rural Hospital Association’s Critical Access Hospital (CAH) Conference in Portland, Ore., last October, John Gale, a research associate with the Maine Rural Health Research Center, spoke about how not-for-profit and public CAH’s are accountable to their communities and about the increasing pressure to respond to community needs.

“Limited resources require strategic thinking. This economic downturn affects the needs of populations most at risk, such as the working poor or the chronically ill.” Gale cites the lack of or reduced access to primary care, medications, preventive services and elective procedures as well as a greater demand on emergency rooms and hospitals due to reduced access.

There are 27 critical access hospitals in Mississippi, one of them being the Choctaw County Medical Center (CCMC) in Ackerman. However, patients needing medical care in Ackerman must now travel to the surrounding towns of Eupora, Starkville, Kosciusko or Louisville since the closing of the CCMC last month. The hospital building is owned by Choctaw County, which leases it to Brandywine Health Services, owned by Jeffrey Moore. 

Jennifer Schmidt, administrator of the hospital, was not available for comment. A notice on the front door of the CCMC states they are on diversion due to construction. The sign reads: “We are currently on diversion until further notice in our Emergency Room, Geri Psych and Acute Care service due to construction. Thanks, Administration.” All CCMC signs, emergency room signs and the state-issued hospital signs have been removed from the CCMC campus and the highway. “There was an issue with the sprinkler system, and upon further inspection, other unsafe conditions were found,” according to Amanda McBride, a reporter for The Choctaw Plaindealer. “Soon after the hospital closed, it filed for bankruptcy, so there is more going on there than meets the eye.” The Choctaw County Medical Center is closed until further notice from the Mississippi Department of Health. 

The Natchez Regional Medical Center has closed its cath lab because the hospital didn’t have a cardiologist to operate it. “We have all the equipment in place, and we’re ready to open it again,” said Kay Ketchings, who handles marketing and public relations for the hospital. “We now have to apply for a new certificate of need (CON) from the Health Department. After a medical facility has been closed for a certain length of time, a new CON is required.”

In summary, Gale stated that increasing attention must be paid to the community activities of hospitals. A movement to establish standards for charity care and community benefit activities is underway across the nation. “Many CAHs are already addressing community needs, but not necessarily in a strategic systematic fashion. CAHs will need to promote the best and promising practices as they address the community’s needs.”

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