The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

August 24, 2013

Uncertainty: Rural hospitals struggle with Medicare cuts, low patient counts


ENID, Okla. — Rural struggles

At Harper County Community Hospital in Buffalo, administrator Georganna Buss said they always struggle, as do most rural hospitals.

“We’re very conservative,” she said. “We haven’t done any new projects. We have a 50 year-old hospital and we’re fixing what we can.”

Buss doubts the community will be able to build a new hospital, but it is holding its own financially. Changes coming through the federal health care plan are unknown, she said, although cutbacks through sequestration and Medicare financially have hurt the hospital.

Harper County Community Hospital is considered a critical-access hospital, which Buss said helps. Some places are struggling if they don’t have secure providers, but Buffalo is recruiting another doctor, who probably will be in place next year.

The average daily census in recent months has been one patient. The average for the year is two and a half to three.

“The summer months hurt. It has been real, real slow since May,” Buss said.

Part of the slowness is due to insurance companies, plus as a St. Anthony affiliate, Harper County Community Hospital transfers a number of patients. St. Anthony has benefited Buss’ hospital in terms of group purchasing and obtaining electronic health records.

“We’re surviving. We’re a county hospital, and we’re keeping the doors open,” she said.

Five years ago, Harper County installed a CT scan at a cost of $200,000. She called that a good purchase that has paid for itself. Last month, it installed an upgraded CT scan system, which has been an asset to the hospital.

“You almost have to have one to rule out things,” Buss said. “That is one project we are able to do that had paid for itself by having it. But we can’t do large projects.

“Many times, rural hospitals have saved lives and are very important to the county and the community,” she said.

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