Augus 2, 2001

Local Health Care Officials Travel To Nation's Capitol To Discuss Rural Hospitals

Representatives of Missouri's rural hospitals traveled to Washington, D.C. in July to urge Congress to support legislation that would help these facilities respond to a growing shortage of nurses and other health practitioners.

Scotland County Memorial Hospital administrator Marcia Dial and administrative assistant Brenda Prather were among the local health care officials to make the trip.

"Although Medicare re-imburses rural Missouri hospitals less than urban facilities for workforce compensation, the current workforce shortage forces rural hospitals to pay as much or more than urban medical centers to attract and retain staff," Dial said. "We told our congressional representatives that by raising the minimum Medicare wage index payment, the proposed Area Wage and Base Payment Improvement Act, H.R. 1609/S.885, would help rural hospitals maintain and enhance their services."

The delegation of rural hospital representatives was organized by the Missouri Hospital Association (MHA). It was comprised of hospital executives, board members and MHA staff.

The group visited the offices of Missouri Representatives Roy Blunt, Jo Ann Emerson, Richard Gephardt, Sam Graves, Kenny Hulshof, and Ike Skelton as well as the offices of Missouri Senators Kit Bond and Jean Carnahan.

Hospital representatives conveyed their appreciation to the members of Missouri's congressional delegation for their support of the Medicare, Medicaid and SCHIP Benefits Improvements and Protection Act of 2000. The act restored or delayed some of the Medicare hospital payment cuts enacted in 1997.

However, the health care executives warned members of Congress that a shortage of qualified personnel, especially nurses, is threatening rural hospitals as they struggle to provide the best care for their communities. They urged Congress to respond to workforce challenges by ensuring the hospitals have the necessary resources to attract and retain qualified nurses, pharmacists and other health care professionals. These resources also should include investments in technology such as computerized medication systems and telemedicine equipment, the delegates noted.

"Although Missouri has made significant strides in recent years to reduce the number of uninsured, gaps in coverage still exist," said Dwight Fine, MHA senior vice president of governmental relations. "These gaps are evident to rural hospitals, which often serve as primary care providers through hospital-based health clinics. The delegation encouraged support for tax credit proposals that would improve access to coverage. Additionally, the Missouri delegation encouraged work toward funding increases comparable to those granted to federally qualified health centers for this component of the rural health care safety net."

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