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Rural hospitals will keep 'Critical Access Hospital' status, avoid losing millions of dollars

Critical access web

Rural hospitals across the country could have lost millions of dollars in federal funding because of a proposed change to how the federal government defines Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs). That’s a special classification for hospitals in mostly rural areas, often far from any other medical providers.

Hospitals have to be a certain distance from a “primary road” to qualify as a Critical Access Hospital.The proposed change by the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services would have widened the definition of a primary road. That would have excluded certain rural hospitals from the designation, and they would have lost millions of dollars in funding.

Last month, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced the change wasn’t going to happen. Schumer said he worked with other elected officials for years to prevent it from going through.

The reversal means hospitals in upstate New York are expected to avoid losing a total of $35 million.

Pamela Stewart Fahs, chair of rural nursing at Binghamton University’s Decker College, said with rural hospitals across the country downsizing and closing, federal support helps some hospitals remain open.

“It is costly to keep these services available in rural communities because you have a lower volume than you do in a larger area or for larger facilities, and that's why the [Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services] funding for Critical Access Hospitals is so important,” Stewart Fahs said.

Stewart Fahs said because of these rural hospitals, patients can get care quicker, and closer to home. She said that often means a better medical outcome.

“If you have access to health care right away, in your own community, it's much better than having to be transported for 45 minutes, an hour or longer to care,” Stewart Fahs said.

There are four Critical Access Hospitals in the Southern Tier: Schuyler Hospital, Margaretville Hospital, O’Connor Hospital and Delaware Valley Hospital.

Margaretville Hospital and O’Connor Hospital in Delaware County, would have lost their designations if the proposed change went through. The reversal is expected to save Margaretville Hospital $2.4 million, and O’Connor Hospital $3 million.