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Border Hospital To Close Due To Loss Of Funding

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Border Hospital To Close Due To Loss Of Funding

Border Hospital To Close Due To Loss Of Funding

TUCSON — The Cochise Regional Hospital in Douglas, Ariz. is likely to close Friday due to the loss of federal Medicare and Medicaid payments. It is the only hospital on the Southeastern border of the state. 

Cochise Regional Hospital serves about 20,000 people living in Douglas. The next closest facility is in Bisbee about 23 miles away.

It is one of 15 “critical access hospitals” in Arizona. This distinction means the hospital is more than 35 miles away from another facility, it has 25 beds or less and has a 24/7 emergency room.

Daniel Derksen directs the Center for Rural Health at the University of Arizona. He said rural hospitals often serve an aging population and rely heavily on Medicare. Derksen said the closure rate of rural hospitals has gone up in recent years. 

“It’s alarming and it’s disturbing and in my experience over the years, once a rural hospital closes, it’s very hard to bring it back,” he said.

Derksen testified in front of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health on Tuesday. His presentation showed of 12 critical access hospitals in rural areas of Arizona, half have negative fiscal margins.

“Any number of variables, if they change in a negative direction, can put our rural hospitals in Arizona, really at the brink, of fiscal extinction,” Derksen said.

People’s Choice Hospital is a national company that took over management of Cochise Regional Hospital after a series of financial hardships. Harley Goldstein, lawyer for the company, said his client has been helping the hospital to fix its problems. But Goldstein said Medicare and Medicaid decided the issues hadn’t been resolved in a timely manner, leading to the decision to stop payments to the hospital.

“I think the hospital deserves an opportunity to show an impartial administrative judge that it’s made a significant amount of progress in fixing the legacy problems,” Goldstein said.

He said most of the area's residents are poverty stricken and, because it's on the U.S.-Mexico border, a lot patients are brought in by U.S. Border Patrol. It's a hospital where principal revenues are coming from Medicare and Medicaid.

Goldstein said he has taken several steps to try and prevent the closure. Now he said he hopes the U.S. Attorney or state representatives in Congress intervene to have Medicare fund the hospital pending the appeal process. On Thursday, Goldstein said federal and state agencies involved had not agreed to this. 

Kate Sheehy is very happy to find herself back with Fronteras: The Changing America Desk as a Senior Field Correspondent in Tucson. Sheehy thinks being a reporter is the most amazing job because no other profession allows you to learn about a variety of subjects and provides the chance to meet people from different walks of life.