Nevada Rural Hospitals Survive in Northern Nevada


Anyone who's spent anytime in Northern Nevada's rural communities knows that healthcare can be an issue. This article comes from John Wheeler, special to the Reno Gazette Journal, and was published on June 24, 2007.

When it comes to economic development, rural communities readily see the benefit in attracting traditional businesses, such as warehouses or processing plants.

But they might get more bang for the buck by recruiting a doctor or some nurses, said Caroline Ford, assistant dean and director of the Center for Education and Health Services Outreach at the University of Nevada School of Medicine.

"Good quality medical care is an important recruitment piece for people moving to a community and for industries to locate in those communities," said Ford, whose duties include directing the Nevada Office of Rural Health.

It wasn't long ago that Nevada's rural hospitals were bleeding money. However, in 2000, rural hospitals received important support from the Nevada Rural Hospital Flexibility Program, a federally funded program administered by the Nevada Office of Rural Health.

"The program helps small rural hospitals receive the designation Critical Access Hospital. It's helped keep doors open and also recruit physicians by offering better salaries, bonuses and enhancements," said program director John Packham.

The key benefit of the designation is that it allows rural hospitals to receive Medicare reimbursement for the actual cost of care, rather than on the traditional set-fee payment schedule, which often cost hospitals money. Nevada certified its first critical access hospitals in 2000 and now has 11 designated facilities.

Matt Rees, administrator of Pershing General Hospital in Lovelock, said that the hospital also has worked hard to change community attitudes.

"Basically changing the perception of people that we're a Band-Aid station and that you have to go out of the area for quality care," he said.

The Flex Program also provides health services research and financial analysis to rural hospitals. This research helps rural hospitals avoid costly mistakes. For example, a 2006 feasibility analysis for a kidney dialysis center at Humboldt General Hospital in Winnemucca concluded that such a center would likely be a money loser.

A Flex Program assessment of payroll and job impact shows that rural hospitals are key economic drivers in their communities.

"County commissions typically think of the health sector being a drain on county budgets, but they not only generate jobs and payroll in their own right, they have added impacts because they purchase goods and services in the local economy," Packham said.