Licensing criteria sparks concerns

The Patrick County Board of Supervisors and the Economic Development Authority will hold a special called meeting at 6 p.m. on Wednesday to discuss Pioneer Community Hospital of Patrick.

Local officials have invested a lot of time and effort into finding a buyer for the hospital, and last week asked for help from residents.

The hospital closed in September, after filing bankruptcy in March 2016.

Potential buyers currently are negotiating with bankruptcy officials to buy the hospital, according to a release issued Friday by Debbie Foley, director of economic development.

County and economic development officials put together an incentive package with the intent of “sweetening the pot” to make the hospital a more attractive prospect to potential buyers, according to the release.

Similar incentives were developed by the Stuart Town Council, with a total incentive package to include performance based measures as officials meet incentives that include:  $300,000 provided by the county to help offset start-up costs in the initial months of operation and a grant from the county to offset property taxes for the first five years of operation. The grant would cover 100 percent of taxes in the first and second year; 75 percent in the third year; 50 percent in the fourth year and 25 percent in the fifth year.

In addition, the county will cover basic utility costs during the shut-down period, and the cost of a maintenance person to preserve the current condition of the hospital and to perform preventative maintenance.

Additionally, the county is paying a forensic accountant $10,000 per month to provide a thorough accounting of past financials to potential buyers. (See related story)

Local also officials worked with state representatives to obtain a variance from the Virginia Department of Health that extends the hospital’s designation as an Acute Care Hospital through Dec. 31. The license will transfer with the hospital, which is good news for a potential buyer, officials have said.

However “the last few weeks have not been without setbacks,” Foley wrote in the release.

She noted that on Oct. 18 the county received notice from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) the Certification Number and Critical Access Hospital (CAH) designation was terminated.

“To say that this constitutes a major setback is an understatement,” Foley said.

Noting the CAH designation translates into revenue, Foley wrote that without it “the value of the hospital drops drastically, seriously jeopardizing not only a potential sale, but the timely reopening.”

In anticipation of the hospital reopening, county and other officials representing the bankruptcy have requested a reinstatement or suspension of the designation as opposed to the termination, the release stated.

“Requirements for this CAH designation have changed in the past few years and it is highly unlikely the hospital would regain” the designation when and if it passed to a new buyer, the release stated.

Among the criteria is the requirement that a hospital must be located more than a 35-mile drive from any hospital or other CAH, or located more than a 15-mile drive from any hospital or other CAH in an area with mountainous terrain or only secondary roads.

Alternatively, if the facility does not meet the distance criteria, it must be certified as a CAH before January 1, 2006, based on state designation as a “necessary provider” of health care services to residents in the area.

The hospital in Stuart is less than 30-miles from another hospital, and under the new guidelines, may not qualify for the CAH designation.

As a result, county and EDA officials urge residents and others to contact federal representatives, asking them to lobby the CMS on the county’s behalf and request the CAH designation is either suspended or reinstated.

U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, both Democrats, will help in any way possible, according to Miryam Lipper, spokesperson. Warner and Kaine both “are strong supporters of rural hospitals and have helped other counties where hospitals have closed. Both offices are happy to help Patrick County on this and other issues.”

There are well-defined criteria set by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that lay out what hospitals need to do to qualify for a Critical Access Hospital (CAH) designation, she noted.

U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R, said “My office has reached out to CMS on this matter, but CMS said they are unable to discuss it while proceedings in bankruptcy court are ongoing.  My office and I stand ready to do whatever we can do legally to assist any organization that desires to step into the shoes of Pioneer Community Hospital of Patrick County.”

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