Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) visited Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital CEO Ed Freysinger on Friday to discuss legislation he is writing to provide better health care at rural hospitals.

Walden said the Critical Access Hospital Flexibility Act would give rural hospitals greater flexibility in complying with federal regulations so they can better meet the needs of patients in rural areas.

Currently, federal regulations limit the number of patients per day in so-called Critical Access Hospitals (CAH).

One requirement to be designated as a CAH is that a rural hospital cannot admit more than 25 patients per day.

It’s rare, but when a CAH reaches this cap, it is simply forced to turn away patients, transfer them to another location at greater expense, remove individuals from occupied beds, or exercise any other option that limits its ability to focus on what it should be doing – providing patient care, the congressman said.

“As someone who served five years on the board of the hospital I’m visiting today, I know the challenges community hospitals face with federal government red tape that prevents them from properly caring for patients," Walden said.

"No one should ever be turned away from a hospital because of a bureaucratic barrier, and no hospital should have to be faced with such a decision," he said.

"I am again working with Senator Ron Wyden to write legislation to provide flexibility for small, rural health care so patients can get the care they need in the community where they live," the congressman said. "We will formally introduce it in Congress soon, and it’s helpful to have the input of health care providers like Hood River Memorial.”

The legislation being written by Walden would allow CAHs to choose to either meet the current 25 patient per day limit or a limit of 20 patients per day averaged throughout the year.

He said this modest degree of flexibility would not interfere with the integrity of Medicare’s CAH program which has served small rural communities well since its creation. Rather, it would permit CAHs to better address situations like seasonal fluctuations in resort areas, flu season, unforeseen accidents, and anything else that might arise and hinder a hospital’s ability to provide patient care.

This week, Freysinger wrote to Walden to support the legislation. “On behalf of Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital, I want to offer our endorsement of the Critical Access Hospital Flexibility Act of 2013. This proposed legislation would allow small, remote hospitals to provide important acute care services to rural communities across the country,” Mr. Freysinger wrote. Click here to read a copy of the letter.

“In Hood River, we are challenged with the current CAH 25-bed limit during time of increased patient need, such as significant population increases during tourism season, influenza endemics, and limited ability to transfer patients in severe weather,” Freysinger continued.

The legislation is intended to benefit the 11 other CAH’s in central, southern, and eastern Oregon, which in addition to Providence Hood River Memorial, include:

  • Heppner: Pioneer Memorial Hospital
  • Hermiston: Good Shepherd Medical Center
  • Pendleton: St. Anthony Hospital
  • La Grande: Grande Ronde Hospital
  • Enterprise: Wallowa Memorial Hospital
  • Baker City: St. Alphonsus Medical Center
  • John Day: Blue Mountain Hospital
  • Madras: Mountain View Hospital
  • Prineville: Pioneer Memorial Hospital
  • Burns: Harney District Hospital
  • Lakeview: Lake District Hospital