What is a Critical Access Hospital?

At Lucas County Health Center, we are often asked “What is a Critical Access Hospital?” This week, we thought we would explain a little about the Critical Access Hospital designation and what it means for our facility and our community.

More than 46 million Americans, or 15 percent of the U.S. population, live in a rural area. Because of transportation issues, the distance required to travel to larger facilities, and lower incomes, this same population tends to be older and sicker than those who live in urban areas.

Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) like Lucas County Health Center (LCHC) are used to help fill the gap and reduce barriers to healthcare. The CAH designation is designed to reduce the financial vulnerability of rural hospitals while keeping essential services available, thus reducing the need to travel. Since rural hospitals are often one of the only sources of care in rural communities, they are more likely to offer services that would not otherwise be accessible to residents in rural areas.

To accomplish the goal of keeping services available, CAHs receive benefits, such as cost-based reimbursement from Medicare. However, to be eligible, CAHs must meet several guidelines, including:

  • May have no more than 25 beds
  • Must have an average duration of hospital stay under 96 hours
  • Must be more than 35 miles from another hospital, with exceptions allowed
  • Must offer 24/7 emergency care
  • Must have a provider able to be on-site within 30 minutes
  • Must have all the equipment and medications required for essential medical treatment
  • Must have agreements in place with larger hospitals for the transport of patients in need of further care

Being a CAH does not mean that fewer services are offered in the hospital – it means that the services that are offered are aimed to meet the unique needs of the community. These are the types of services that matter when seconds count and, ultimately, can reduce out-of-pocket costs for patients. Each CAH facility is unique and may offer different services than that of another CAH facility.

So what is the advantage of being a CAH?

The primary advantage to LCHC is cost-based reimbursement. This means that instead of standard fixed reimbursement rates, LCHC receives cost-based reimbursement from Medicare.

The advantages to the community far outweigh the advantages to the facility. First and foremost, by being a CAH, LCHC is able to provide critical care services to our community. These are services that would otherwise not be available without driving out of county, such as physical therapy, radiology, inpatient hospital stays, and more.

Additionally, as one of the largest employers in Lucas County, LCHC provides over 250 job opportunities and creates an economic impact of $6 million per year.

To learn more about Lucas County Health Center and the services provided, visit lchcia.com.