Critical Access status remains at Page Memorial

Page News and Courier

LURAY ― Page Memorial Hospital will retain its critical access designation, Valley Health officials recently announced.

That status ― which PMH received in 2005 ― “ends a six-month process undertaken by the Valley Health System and PMH to document and defend the continued legitimacy” of its designation, according to a March 4 news release issued by Valley Health.

In August the local hospital was notified by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy that it no longer met the requirements for the Critical Access Hospital designation.

The designation is certified under a set of Medicare Conditions of Participation, and provides a cost-of-care reimbursement differential to smaller hospitals in rural communities, where higher rates of chronic diseases impact that community.

The main point of contention stemmed from location requirements ― the hospital must be located more than a 35-mile drive (or, in the case of mountainous areas, a 15-mile drive) from another hospital before Jan. 1, 2006.

According to an Aug. 24 letter to PMH President Travis Clark, the hospital was set to lose its status no later than Aug. 24, 2016.

At the time, Clark noted that PMH was certified as a necessary provider by the state in October 2005 ― three months prior to the Jan. 1, 2006 requirement. Additionally, PMH is 25.8 miles from Warren Memorial Hospital and 33.1 miles from Shenandoah Memorial. The definition of “mountainous terrain,” clark said, was ambiguous.

In PMH's request for reconsideration for the designation, according to the March 4 news release, “it demonstrated that the hospital was not, in fact, originally certified based on distance or mountainous terrain. Instead, the hospital was deemed a “necessary provider” after meeting the five requirements established by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Those requirements state that a hospital must:
• Be in a medically underserved area.
• Be located in a county that has a higher three-year jobless rate average than that of the state's.
• Be located in a county that maintains a population 65 and older that is greater than the state average.
• Take in revenue from Medicare that exceeds the state average for Medicare reimbursement.
• Be located in a county where the poverty rate exceeds the state average.

“These same criteria hold true in Page County today,” Clark said.

According to hospital officials, 19.4 percent of Page County residents are 65 or older, compared to 13.4 percent in Virginia. The county's poverty rate is nearly four points higher than the state's 11.3 percentage rate. The county also exceeds the state's jobless rate average by nearly two points at 6.7 percent.

Page County also has the highest elder suicide rate in Virginia at 43.9 per 100,000.

Following its review, CMS notified Page Memorial last month that its designation will remain in tact.

“We are extremely pleased that CMS reviewed our case objectively and rescinded its termination of Page Memorial Hospital’s Critical Access designation,” Valley Health President and CEO Mark H. Merrill said in the news release.

Merrill continued, noting support received by the Governor's Office, as well as Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-6th) and Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-10th).

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