Friday, January 19, 2018

Kristi Gatrell, CEO for Big Horn County Memorial Hospital in Hardin, shows U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) the building’s mammogram unit during his Friday visit.

Rep. Gianforte stops at BHC Hospital for roundtable health care discussion

U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) arrived at the Big Horn County Memorial Hospital conference room Friday morning to listen and learn about the “unique needs of smaller, rural hospitals.” Local health professionals and leaders, seated around a wood table, appeared happy to oblige.
Gianforte stressed three goals: keeping health care affordable, preserving rural access to hospitals and protecting people with preexisting conditions. Using a football analogy, he said these goals are aided by making “short plays” against the high cost of prescription drug, medical malpractice insurance and more.
“Any kind of mandated program for health insurance at a national level – which people can’t afford – is not going to work,” he said, referring to the current Affordable Care Act. “We need a safety net for people who can’t take care of themselves and we’ve got to protect people with preexisting conditions.”
“You don’t hear about this in the national media very much,” he continued, “but one of the things we did in my first three weeks on the job is pass medical malpractice reform that would get doctors out of the courtroom and back seeing patients.”
The House Bill, the Protecting Access to Care Act, caps medical malpractice lawsuit costs at $250,000. It was passed by the House on June 28 and moved to the Senate the following day. Medical malpractice costs amount to an estimated $55.6 billion per year, or about 2.4 percent of the United States’ total health care expenses. 
With the rise of President Donald Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress and Senate, Gianforte said, there’s a “new openness to peel back regulations over the last eight years.” 
Recent regulations for Skilled Nursing Facilities should be looked into, according to Heritage Acres Nursing Home administrator Paula Small, due to the extensive paperwork required. The corrections are needed to bring the nursing home up to date from the 1990s, she continued, but the November deadline and possible penalties are restricting their ability to provide care.
Bigger facilities have management companies to account for these changes, she said, but fast compliance is harder for smaller locations. No federal reimbursement is available to help keep up with 1,200 pages in regulations.
“[We want to spend money on] patient care and staffing and nurses and CNA’s, rather than administrative people to comply with a stack of regulations,” she said.
Heritage Acres is currently attempting to lessen any possible penalties against the facility.
On the hospital side, despite a shortage in the workforce – staff are looking to hire six of 25 possible nurses – CEO Kristi Gatrell said they do well with the people available. After the meeting, she took Gianforte on a tour to see the hospital’s clean and well-lit lab, mammogram unit, ER and MRI exam room.
“From the bottom of my heart, I’ll tell you this place is amazing,” she said. “It could be a car wreck, a heart attack, a stroke – many lives have been saved in this facility.”
Gatrell estimates that 70 percent of the hospital’s patients are Native American, and more have arrived since the Affordable Care Act expanded Medicare and Medicaid. The hospital hasn’t had a high enough score under the Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA) to qualify for federal student loan aid – up to $50,000 in repayment – but there may be a workaround to help draw students.
According to Gianforte, since the Health Resources & Services Administration takes “specific population groups” into account with the HPSA score, the hospital could fall under the same category as a tribal facility. He made a note to check into the possibility.
They didn’t come near to covering every issue regarding health care, according to Gianforte, but it was a good start.
“I hope this is the beginning of a dialogue and not the end,” he told those assembled. “I can’t promise results, but I promise I’ll go to bat for you.”