Caldwell hospital OK despite trend


An area hospital counted on by many in Lyon County appears to be in good shape despite a recent report that a quarter of Kentucky's 65 rural hospitals are at a high risk of closing if their financial health does not change drastically.

Kentucky Hospital Association President Nancy Galvagni recently told state lawmakers that a study by the consulting group Navigant found that 21 percent of rural U.S. hospitals are at a high risk of closure if their financial conditions did not improve.

"In Kentucky, they found that almost 25 percent of rural hospitals are at high financial risk of closure," she said.

However, Caldwell Medical Center's marketing director said the Princeton hospital is not one of those facilities.

"In the past, we may have been in or close to this category of a facility that is struggling, but I am happy to report that we are in a significant period of growth," said Joe Duncan.

A nonprofit, critical access hospital with 25 beds, Caldwell Medical Center opened as a new facility in October 2009, replacing the 58-year-old Caldwell County Hospital. In the face of all the challenges rural hospitals are facing, Duncan said the Princeton medical facility has adapted in order to stay relevant.

"With a change in management about a year and half ago, our new administration has been working hard to offer the services that best meet the needs of our community by investing in the right tools and personnel for success," he said.

In fact, Caldwell Medical Associates offers family practice clinics in Fredonia and Princeton; surgical, cardiology and orthopedic clinics; and internal medicine and pediatrics.

Galvagni noted there are 13 of Kentucky's 129 total hospitals most at risk of closure. Those institutions represent 2,500 jobs and more than $240 million in wages.

Also, nearly 1,000 patients each day would have to find another place to find treatment if they closed, putting them further way from critical treatment.

According to the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina, 113 hospital have closed nationwide since 2010, including five in Kentucky.

"It is true that there are a myriad of issues facing rural hospitals that create systemic sustainability issues that, unfortunately, can and are leading to facility closures across the state and our nation as a whole," Duncan points out. "Though our organization's outlook is brighter, we are not unsympathetic to the issues facing our fellow rural healthcare providers."

One of the biggest issues rural hospitals face, Galvani said, is federal reimbursement rates for such programs as Medicare and Medicaid, which are below what it costs to provide the services. According to Galvagni, Medicare, which is important to rural hospitals, only pays 90 percent of actual costs. Medicaid pays about 81 percent. But either is better than patients with no insurance who cannot pay for their treatment.

Duncan said Caldwell Medical Center CEO Dan Odegaard recently hosted a community roundtable with U.S. Sen. Rand Paul to discuss these and other issues negatively affecting rural health care.

"Our administration is taking a proactive stance to advocate directly to the federal level for real attention to the concerns surrounding rural health care in our state," Duncan said.

(Kentucky Today contributed to this story.)