Wednesday, April 22, 2020

State Rep. Kiger: Rural Hospitals Need More from Governor Stitt

Kiger: Rural Hospitals Need More from Governor Stitt

POTEAU – State Rep. Lundy Kiger (R-Poteau) today called on Gov. Stitt to do more for rural hospitals after suspending many of their services in response to COVID-19.

“Over the past several years, the number of rural hospitals in Oklahoma closing continues to grow in alarming numbers,” Kiger said. “We appreciate the governor recognizing the fact that closing elective surgeries reduced hospital revenues approximately 80 percent, which no business can afford. The cost of these services just to try and keep the doors open at the Eastern Oklahoma Medical Center (EOMC) in LeFlore County resulted in a temporary reduction of hospital staff by more than 50 people between the surgical department, OB and clinic staff. In comparison to many rural hospitals that are now broke or about to close their doors, the administration at EOMC led by CEO Bob Carter has taken many important steps in preparing for a downturn because this is the way of life for most rural hospitals.”

EOMC is a critical access hospital, Kiger pointed out, and like many border state facilities located around the state is the gatekeeper and the last facility in the region of SE Oklahoma helping to keep Oklahoma Medicaid dollars in the state. Even with EOMC operational, approximately $9 million goes across the border to Arkansas, he said. Now, with the closing of surgery and OB, the hospital is expected to lose another $3 million or more annually. This is a total of $12 million Oklahoma dollars going to Arkansas. If you look at the southern border of Oklahoma, the same situation is happening with Oklahoma dollars going into Texas, and the same is taking place in Kansas, Missouri and Colorado, Kiger said.

EOMC, like many hospitals, was able to apply for and receive the federal government’s Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program loan, Kiger said. This resulted in a pre-payment of Medicare that will have to be repaid starting in 120 days from receiving the funds.

“With the amount of Medicaid dollars going out of state to Arkansas of approximately $12 million annually in the example with EOMC, all other rural hospitals located near our state's borders are also bleeding millions of Oklahoma dollars to the benefit of out-of-state health care providers that we need to consider,” Kiger said. “If we lose any of our Oklahoma rural hospitals, we will not only see millions of dollars leaving our state, we will see many good paying jobs lost, our rural population without health care available for emergencies, delivering babies and many doctors will be gone for routine checkups, and rural Oklahoma will be affected in our ability to draw industry and jobs to these rural areas.”

“The state of Oklahoma and Gov. Stitt have to look beyond the lights of Oklahoma City and Tulsa and realize that half of Oklahoma's population lives in rural Oklahoma,” Kiger continued. “We have the same needs for health care as those living in urban Oklahoma. There must be a comprehensive look by the governor and the Oklahoma Hospital Association at geographic locations of rural hospitals in the state, and especially rural hospitals still open near our state's borders. They need to make a determination of the real need of additional funding for our rural hospitals to remain open during this pandemic and beyond.

“Hospitals like EOMC are not looking for a hand out, but with a possible loan of funding EOMC could overcome the shutdown due to the pandemic and could reopen surgery and OB and put everyone back to work who have been laid off. I've asked the governor to consider providing $6 million for EOMC from the TSET fund that has over $1 billion sitting in its account. If granted, EOMC and other rural hospitals would be happy to sign a note in paying the money back to TSET with interest. The second option is for the governor to consider using some of the federal stimulus money or new money that will be voted on soon to use for Oklahoma rural hospitals.”

Kiger said there are 28 rural hospitals in the state that are at risk of closing, and if nothing is done many will close down within days, weeks or months.

“I'm asking the governor and the Oklahoma Hospital Association to give a new look at the importance of our rural hospitals and understand how vital they are to our rural population as well as helping to keep Oklahoma dollars in our state,” he said.

Lundy Kiger represents District 3 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, which includes part of LeFlore County.


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