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Hospital in Pocahontas first in state to use the rural emergency hospital designation

Arkansas Capitol
The Arkansas Legislature allows hospitals in the state to use the rural emergency hospital designation by the federal government. The federal government created this designation to allow hospitals to get higher rates of reimbursement by the federal government for the care they provide.

In Arkansas, nearly one third of counties don’t have a hospital within their border. Earlier this year, the federal government created the rural emergency hospital designation to address this issue for states like Arkansas.

The rural emergency hospital designation increases the amount of money the federal government reimburses hospitals for outpatient services and procedures. Outpatient care is defined as hospital or medical facility care that you receive without being admitted or for a stay of less than 24 hours, according to eHealth.

During this week’s edition of Arkansas Week, Randy Barymon, administrator of St. Bernards Medical center in Pocahontas, said the designation made sense for St. Bernards because of the additional funding it provides.

“Like most rural facilities, we have an aged building, we also have equipment that we need to evaluate. But first and foremost, we want to secure our emergency room services and all other outpatient services being utilized,” he said.

Arkansas is one of 15 states that has enacted laws to allow hospitals within their state to use the rural emergency hospital designation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. During the 2023 legislative session, Rep. Lee Johnson, R-Greenwood, sponsored the bill in the House that allowed Arkansas to utilize the designation.

In an interview with Talk Business & Politics, during the session, Johnson said he didn’t expect an influx of hospitals taking advantage of the rural emergency hospital licenses.

“The rural hospitals will be the ones that could have the opportunity to take advantage of this, not all of them will. In Arkansas, a dozen or less hospitals will look at this and say ‘this is the right financial decision for us,’” Johnson said.

There are hospitals that will decide to continue to be critical access hospitals, Johnson said at the time.

Hospitals can be a rural emergency hospital or critical access hospital but not both. Currently, Arkansas has 28 hospitals that are designated as critical access hospitals by the federal government, according to the Arkansas Hospital Association.

Ronak Patel is a reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.