Colusa County is supporting Colusa Medical Center’s efforts to have the facility declared a critical access hospital.
Such a designation by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services would help the hospital reduce its financial vulnerability in order to keep essential services in the community, officials said.
“What that designation would do would subject them to a different level of reimbursement, which would help the hospital be more fiscally stable,” said County Administrative Officer Wendy Tyler.
While the designation is typically given to hospitals located more than 35 miles from another hospital, Colusa County officials hope certain exceptions will be made because of the region’s dependence on secondary roads that are prone to closure as a result of flooding or vehicle accidents.
“Recent regional events including tragic fires and floods have changed expectations of rural health hospitals in the provision of healthcare services, especially in disaster preparedness,” noted Supervisor Kent Boes, in a letter of support. “In evaluation of Colusa County’s and Colusa Medical Center’s disaster preparedness, we agree the hospital should be designated as a critical access hospital.”
Colusa Medical Center opened in late 2017 after Colusa Regional Medical Center collapsed in bankruptcy more than a year earlier.
According to Navigant Research, one in five rural hospitals in the U.S. are in danger of closing unless their financial situation improves. The same 2019 report, analyzed the financial viability and community essentiality of more than 2,000 rural hospitals nationwide, showed that 64 percent of at-risk hospitals are highly essential to the communities they serve.
Colusa County officials said Colusa Medical Center should qualify as a Critical Access Hospital because it is located more than 15 miles from a hospital that is reached only by secondary roads, including Highway 20, Highway 162, and Highway 45, which were impacted or closed by historic storms in 2019 and 2017 and seven others dating back to 1950.
“I’m actually really excited about this,” Boes said. “This is something we were trying to work on a long time ago when the hospital closed and reopened. I’m glad to see this finally happening.”
Amy Micheli, chief nursing and operations officer at Colusa Medical Center, said Assemblyman James Gallagher is also supporting the hospital in achieving a change in designation.
“Before we even send in the application to Medi-Cal and Medicaid, we need Caltrans to be agreeable that these are secondary roads,” Micheli said. “I think this is the perfect timing considering the flooding of last year, the fires in Paradise, and even that I-5 closed around that same time. I think this is the only way we are going to save this hospital.”
Like many rural hospitals, Colusa struggles with the increasing number of uninsured patients and low rate of reimbursement for Medi-Cal and Medicare patients.
The change in designation to critical access would allow Colusa Medical Center to receive cost-based reimbursements, which would incentivize the hospital to make improvements, as well as trigger regulations that strengthen the hospital’s ability to work with insurance companies. ■