Hospital opts for critical access

Whidbey General Hospital will become a critical access facility with fewer beds available for general use if plans prove out.

On Sept. 12, the hospital’s board voted to pursue designation as a “critical access” hospital. If the bid is successful, the hospital stands to gain about $2 million in revenue because the federal government pays one percent above costs for Medicare patients.

About 50 percent of the patients treated at Whidbey General are Medicare recipients, Rhine said. The hospital is reimbursed below costs under the present arrangement.

The state Department of Health will screen the hospital to ensure it meets criteria for the “critical access” designation, which is expected to go into effect February 1 at Whidbey.

Patients probably won’t notice much change, even though there will be a requirement limiting to 25 the number of patients hospitalized per day. The hospital is licensed for 51 beds.

Rhine doesn’t foresee major problems. The hospital averages about 21 patients daily. When there’s a significant spike in numbers, a few patients are already diverted to other hospitals.

Another factor that will ease the bed access problems is the board’s decision to purchase 17 guerneys to accommodate outpatients who need a short stay while under medical observation.

The electronic Stryker stretchers or guerneys cost $6,600 apiece. They’re equipped with a comfy mattress, side rails and adjustments for patient’s backs and legs.

The extra revenue from the feds could help the hospital attract some of the medical specialists Whidbey islanders need, such as an orthopedic surgeon and a urologist.

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