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Carthage Area Hospital saved with $10.4 million lifeline

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CARTHAGE — Carthage Area Hospital’s recent $10.4 million award through the Interim Access Assurance Fund has proven to be its lifeline.

Chief Operating Officer Richard A. Duvall said the federal funds, which passed through the state Department of Health, allow the financially distressed hospital to remain open, pay bills and continue to see patients.

“How important was it? Very important to receive those funds,” he said. “We would have had to review various services and look at potential cuts which could have led us to closure. Again, that was one of the indicators for (grant) application.”

Carthage Area Hospital, 1001 West St., initially asked for $13.3 million, but it was the state, Mr. Duvall said, that determined the final amount. Without the award, he said, the hospital would have been in the red.

About $22.9 million was awarded to safety net hospitals in the north country, with Carthage Area Hospital’s award the largest.

Mr. Duvall said funding was provided to hospitals at risk of closure between April 2014 and April 2015. Carthage Area Hospital has struggled financially for several years, and most recently began an affiliation with Samaritan Medical Center, Watertown, to help stay afloat and strengthen operations.

Carthage Area Hospital received its first payment — $3 million — in June. Additional payments will be monthly, after the hospital shares its performance.

Mr. Duvall said the fact that the nonprofit hospital has the large award doesn’t necessarily mean it must use all the money.

A large focus, he said, has been to increase outpatient services as the demand for inpatient services has declined. Building the Carthage Area Hospital brand, knowing the interim funding is there and planning for the hospital’s future are some of the key components to its success, he said.

“It puts us in a very good position, and allows us to focus on strategic planning and not financial distress of the facility,” Mr. Duvall said. “So far the hospital has made several decisions to promote efficiency.”

Those decisions include applying for critical-access designation, which would enhance reimbursement; relinquishing ownership of the Adams Community Health Center, reducing staffing levels and reducing the number of critical care, medical/surgical and pediatric unit beds from 30 to 10.

Carthage Area Hospital is not alone. River Hospital, Alexandria Bay; Massena Memorial Hospital; Lewis County General Hospital, Lowville, and Gouverneur Hospital all received Interim Access Assurance Fund assistance.

Many local hospitals, Mr. Duvall said, also would have been operating at a negative cash flow without the help.

“I think this is a nationwide issue,” he said. “All hospitals are in similar circumstances.”

As inpatient levels and reimbursements decline, so does the overall health of hospitals, he said. Additional funding sources, collaborations and strategic planning will help hospitals survive, he said.

“Our surgical program is one of the shining stars,” Mr. Duvall said. “The hospital is the place for personal care. We continue to provide high-quality health care to patients.”

For more information about the hospital, visit www.carthageareahospital.com.

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