Also visits local pharmacy
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
With over-regulation, soaring operational costs and a federal reimbursement index that works against them, rural hospitals are fast becoming an endangered species.
U.S. Congressman Bradley Byrne was in Atmore Tuesday, May 29, where he discussed some of the challenges facing small-town medical centers during a private briefing with state hospital officials and local leaders at Atmore Community Hospital.
The update was attended by executives of hospitals and healthcare-related entities from across the region and state, including Danne Howard, executive vice president of the Alabama Hospital Association.
Several Atmore community leaders, including Mayor Jim Staff, City Councilwoman Susan Smith and West Escambia Utilities Manager Kenny Smith, were in attendance, as were all five Escambia County commissioners.
Following the private meeting, print and broadcast media were allowed into the hospital auditorium, where Byrne gave an on-camera interview to an area television station before joining ACH President Doug Tanner for a tour of the local facility.
Byrne started off on a positive note before switching his focus onto the issues that currently affect or will affect rural medical centers such as ACH.
“These are positive times for many Alabamians,” said the congressman, who represents Alabama’s First District in the U.S. House of Representatives. “Our unemployment rate is at an all-time low, major manufacturers continue to locate in our state, and the national championship trophy is back in the state where it belongs.
“Despite the momentum, our state is certainly not free from challenges. One of the most serious issues facing Alabama hardly ever receives the attention it deserves. I’m talking about the closure of rural hospitals throughout our state.”
He pointed out that the closure of rural hospitals has a three-fold negative impact on the communities they once served.
“If you close a hospital in any community, particularly a rural community, it’s devastating for the community,” Byrne said. “Back in 1990 they closed the hospital in Flomaton and it really hurt that community. It hurts in three ways: Number 1, people don’t have easier, quicker access to healthcare, and sometimes time is of the essence; Number 2, these are jobs in that community, and they’ve lost those jobs. Number 3, it’s hard to attract new business and industry to a community if you don’t have a hospital.”
The congressman added that the method of computing Medicare reimbursements is also a stumbling block for rural hospitals.
“The way they compute it, it actually penalizes Alabama,” he said. “Other states have larger urban areas that have essentially gained the system and used this index as a way to get themselves more money. So Alabama hospitals, on average, receive 20 percent less than other hospitals across America for things that they do that are reimbursable from Medicare.
“Here we are in Atmore, less than an hour from Pensacola, this hospital will get 20 percent less for similar services as hospital in Pensacola would. The cost structure for this hospital is the same as a hospital in Pensacola. Obviously, that’s unfair.”
Following his appearance at ACH, Byrne visited the local Buy Rite Drugs.