NEW DESIGNATION WILL AID HOSPITAL

May 11, 2001 12:00 am

New designation

will aid hospital

Wallowa Memorial Hospital is on the right track in seeking a new Medicare reimbursement designation.

The public hospital in Enterprise is considering whether to change from being a Sole Community Provider to that of a Critical Access Hospital. New government rules have made the critical access designation extremely attractive for Wallowa Memorial and other rural hospitals.

The new designation would affect how the hospital is paid by the government for Medicare patients, which make up about 80 percent of those admitted. Under the current community provider status, the government reimburses the hospital according to fixed payments, called DRGs.

If Wallowa Memorial changes to critical access status, Medicare will reimburse it for its costs. The hospital could pick up an additional $400,000 per year under the new designation.

A tradeoff of the new system is that a maximum of four days would be imposed on how long Medicare patients on average could be treated as acute-care patients. But that does not appear to be a problem since the average acute care stay at the hospital in recent years has been 3.01 days. Because of the averaging system, Medicare patients staying longer than four days will not be penalized.

Small hospitals are increasingly strapped for funds. The Critical Access Hospital designation represents a good way for Wallowa Memorial to remain solvent and continue to provide basic hospital services, including acute-care beds, an emergency room and laboratory and X-ray departments.

Additional administrative and operating expenses can be saved by small hospitals as they pursue joint operating agreements and other cooperative arrangements with larger care providers. Meanwhile, the critical access designation makes good sense for Wallowa Memorial Hospital in helping it to stay viable for years to come.

GIFTS KEEP ON GIVING

People who have lived in Union County a decade or longer can remember the dilapidated animal shelter near the county fairgrounds. The facility ended up in such poor shape that it was closed several years ago

The idea of building a modern shelter took on life in 1994 when Martha Ann Smutz donated five acres of her family farm south of La Grande for the new facility. Pets, pet owners and the community as a whole have benefited greatly by the presence of the Louise McNeely Animal Shelter on Highway 30 near Gekeler Lane.

Smutz died Sunday in La Grande at the age of 88. Her generous spirit will be remembered by people who love pets and those who worked so hard in the 1990s to come up with a facility to house abandoned animals.