Financial relief soon to come for small rural hospitals

Olympia — An important step was taken in Olympia on Monday to ensure small rural hospitals are able to serve their communities for generations to come, thanks to legislation co-sponsored by Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam and Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond.

Senate Bill 5859 creates a classification for certain rural hospitals in order to align state Medicaid reimbursement rates with Federal Medicare compensation rates, providing these hospitals much-needed financial relief from the hardship caused by the Great Recession.

Rural hospitals have been especially hit hard by the recession, and more and more patients who visit them rely on Medicaid and Medicare to cover their costs. The reimbursements received by these hospitals are often less than the cost for services provided.

“The primary role of the Legislature is to provide protection for our community, elderly and our most needy citizens,” said Hatfield. “Without these community hospitals, our most vulnerable citizens would have nowhere to go.”

Hargrove and Hatfield are intensely familiar with this issue; both Grays Harbor Community Hospital and Olympia Medical Center in Port Angeles are located near or within the borders of their districts. Grays Harbor Community Hospital receives 72 percent of its general revenue from Medicaid or other government programs. In order for Grays Harbor Community Hospital to qualify for matching Medicaid funds it would need to become a public hospital.

Hargrove noted that in response to the growing costs, many small rural hospitals have been forced to make difficult cuts, adding that doctors and nurses are already stretched thin, many of them performing duties outside of the scope of their job duties.

“By moving this legislation forward, we not only ensure our citizens will have access to a quality hospital, we also retain jobs,” Hargrove said. “There are nearly 650 people working at Grays Harbor Hospital. These are good, middle-class wage jobs; we need to protect these people and keep them working.”