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Hospital awarded additional $370k for home health services

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County General Hospital is expecting an additional $370,000 in funding through the state’s Vital Access/Safety Net Provider Program, thanks to its pending critical access designation.

“The grant will assist LCGH in the transformation of our organization to a more sustainable model of care,” said hospital Chief Executive Officer Eric R. Burch. “The funding will also help us fulfill our goals associated with population health. We plan to add new programs and expand upon existing ones, like diabetes and heart disease management and prevention, maternal child wellness and community outreach activities.”

The state Department of Health in December awarded the hospital $1.3 million in Vital Access grant funding over the next three years to expand its home health and hospice services.

An additional $5 million had been set aside specifically for critical access hospitals, and officials at the county-owned hospital argued that their application for that designation, submitted more than a year ago, should make them eligible for a portion of the added funding.

They were recently informed by letter that the lobbying effort was successful.

“We would like to thank Iroquois Health Alliance for working on our behalf with the Department of Health to help ensure our facility was included in this round of funding,” Mr. Burch said.

Hospital leaders had hoped to have critical-access designation — expected to increase Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement by $3 million per year — months ago. However, that process was delayed as some language in contracts with physician groups, including the emergency room doctors, had to be reworked to comply with state Department of Health recommendations.

An on-site inspection of the facility is scheduled for the last week of February, and, if there are no issues, administrators now hope to gain the new designation by late March or early April, according to Mr. Burch.

The state Department of Health is to work closely with hospitals and organizations that receive Vital Access awards and will help those facilities develop goals. The federal government also will have to put its stamp of approval on the plans.

To assist with that effort, a strategic planner hired by the state recently visited the hospital, which in January 2013 took over administration of the home health and hospice programs from the Lewis County Public Health Agency.

Hospital managers at a meeting Jan. 29 approved the creation of two new registered nurse positions in those programs that are to be covered by the grant funding, and county legislators signed off on the matter at their Feb. 6 meeting.

Both hospital administrators and doctors at the hospital board meeting said that an increasing caseload has been taxing the existing home-health nurses and resulting in a lot of overtime.

Mr. Burch said the hospital must add the positions as part of the Vital Access grant plan, with the intent of reducing chances that discharged patients are readmitted soon afterward. However, they won’t necessarily need to be retained if they are not meeting that goal.

“We’ll be evaluating this each year,” Mr. Burch said.

The Board of Managers on Jan. 29 approved the purchase of a urodynamic analyzer system, not to exceed $18,000, that is to aid in the diagnosis of urinary issues like incontinence.

Medical directors at the hospital noted that incontinence is a common problem, particularly among women over the age of 50, and suggested that the system should pay for itself very quickly. New obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Norman M. Neches also specializes in such testing and treatment, they said.

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