Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) visited St. Anthony Hospital in Pendleton Friday to announce the introduction of bipartisan legislation to provide better health care at small, rural hospitals.

The Critical Access Hospital Flexibility Act (H.R. 3444) would change federal regulations for rural hospitals to give them greater flexibility in meeting the needs of patients.

“No patient should ever be turned away from a hospital because of bureaucratic red tape from Washington, D.C.," Walden said.

"I served on a community hospital board for five years, and know they have enough challenges in caring for patients without burdensome regulations getting in their way. I have introduced this bipartisan plan to provide flexibility for small, rural hospitals so that patients can get the care they need in the community where they live,” he added.

“Critical Access Hospitals” (CAHs) provide essential health care services to rural communities, including 12 in Oregon’s Second District.

Federal regulations limit the number of patients per day in CAHs to 25. It’s rare, but when a CAH reaches this cap, it must turn away patients, transfer them to another location, remove patients from beds, or do other things that divert attention from patient care.

Walden's office said the "common-sense legislation," introduced with Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), 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.

This modest degree of flexibility would permit CAHs to better address situations like unforeseen accidents, public health emergencies, seasonal fluctuations, flu season, or anything else that might arise and hinder a hospital’s ability to provide patient care.

Click here for the full text of the bill.

In February, Walden visited Providence Hood River Memorial in Prineville to meet with CEO Ed Freysinger and receive input on the legislation. This week, Freysinger endorsed the legislation.

“Critical access hospitals such as ours serve communities with large numbers of Medicare, Medicaid and uninsured patients," Freysinger said. "We also face such seasonal situations as severe winter weather and increased population from the spring to early fall."

"We know that the flexibility proposed in Rep. Walden’s bill would allow smaller, remote hospitals to continue providing vital acute care services in rural areas across the country,” Freysinger said.

Besides the hospitals in Prineville and Hood River, the legislation could benefit 10 other CAHs in Oregon’s Second District