Three area hospitals are participating in rural health model

Brad Hundt

Three hospitals in Washington and Greene counties are participating in a new statewide program that changes the way rural hospitals are compensated.

It was announced Thursday Washington Hospital, Monongahela Valley Hospital and Washington Health System Greene Hospital in Waynesburg are among eight hospitals in the western part of the commonwealth that are participating in the Pennsylvania Rural Health Model, which gives the hospitals fixed annual payments from insurance providers, rather than paying them in a fee-for-service model.

This new method of payment is designed to help rural hospitals stay afloat. Many rural health facilities in Pennsylvania and in other parts of the country have been struggling in recent years because of declining populations, older and sicker patients and shrinking reimbursements. More than 100 rural hospitals have closed across the United States since January 2010, including two in Pennsylvania.

The first five hospitals participating in the Pennsylvania Rural Health Model, all from the eastern part of the commonwealth, were announced earlier this year. The model is set to run for five years, and Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation so far to attempt such a program, according to Nate Wardle, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

“The Rural Health Model is a transformative step that changes the financial model for hospitals in rural areas,” Secretary of Health Rachel Levine said in a statement Thursday. “This is a step that will help achieve financial stability for these facilities and aims to improve the overall health of the community.”

Other hospitals in Western Pennsylvania participating in the program are located in Armstrong, Somerset, Fulton, Jefferson and Blair counties. All told, 67 hospitals across Pennsylvania are eligible to participate. It was also announced Aetna is among the insurance providers taking part, along with Medicare, Highmark, UPMC, Gateway and Geisinger.

Budgets at the participating hospitals won’t necessarily increase, Wardle explained, “but they will be consistent throughout the year,” allowing the hospitals to plan and put resources toward endeavors that improve wellness in their communities, “and not worry about the number of (patients) who are in their hospital.”

It’s estimated nearly half of all rural hospitals in Pennsylvania are operating in the red and at risk of closing. When rural hospitals close, patients have to look farther afield for care, and local economies take a serious hit because of lost jobs and the loss of businesses that support a hospital.

Spokespersons for Washington Hospital, Washington Health System Greene and Monongahela Valley Hospital could not be reached for comment Thursday.