A new law will soon go into effect, and Sturgis Hospital will be categorized as a Rural Emergency Hospital (REH). Sturgis Hospital Interim CEO Jeremy Gump was in attendance at a Sturgis City Commission meeting Wednesday to provide an update on the transition.
A Rural Emergency Hospital is classified as a facility that has fewer than 50 beds, and provides outpatient and emergency services. Gump shared a glimpse of what Sturgis Hospital would look like once the transition happens with city commissioners. “The emergency room is still going to be open 24 hours a day. We are still going to be able to do outpatient procedures. we are going to be able to do surgeries still that don’t involve lengths of stay longer than a day.” Gump added meeting the criteria regarding length of stay is one of the requirements of being a REH.
Gump said of the 25 people who visit the Emergency Department per day on average, only about two of those patients need to be admitted. A second requirement of a REH is the hospital must have a transfer agreement in place with a Level 1 or Level 2 Trauma Center, therefore patients are guaranteed a bed in a facility where they can stay for a longer period of time, if needed.
Gump also spoke about the hospital’s concern regarding psychiatric patients and the time limit on inpatient beds. “We already will have (psychiatric) patients for days and we get them a lot,” he said. “There are very few (psychiatric) beds in the area, and we have had to transfer people as far as Indianapolis to find them a bed.” Gump said the hospital could run into issues in the future regarding its classification as a Rural Emergency Hospital. For example, if circumstance forced the hospital to hold psychiatric patients longer than 24 hours until a bed transfer can be found, that could jeopardize the hospital’s status.
Commissioners inquired about how many psychiatric patients come to the hospital now, and Gump did not have a definite number but said it is a frequent occurrence. He also said those patients require one-on-one observation, and the hospital is utilizing the equivalent of two full-time employees for that type of service. Gump said there are limited resources county-wide, not just in Sturgis, so those patients are eventually transferred to a psychiatric facility elsewhere, adding that many of those cases involve juveniles.
Mayor Jeff Mullins asked Gump if there is a projected date in mind for the official transition to REH, acknowledging that January 1, 2023 was when the law was expected to go into effect. “We are targeting March 1,” Gump said, “and the reason for that delay is that the bill didn’t even get through the Michigan legislature until December 23, and the governor signed it at the beginning of January.” Gump said the hospital still needs to apply for the new status through Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), and the application for it is not yet available.
Fourth Precinct Commissioner Frank Perez asked how the hospital is currently doing financially. Gump said the facility is continuing to operate at a significant loss each month, though it has not depleted its money source. He added that operating at a $300,000 loss is considered a good month, and a $600,000 loss represents a bad month. “These things we see as being remedied by a reduction on the operating expense side when we are able to close the inpatient units, which we can’t do until we are the Rural Emergency Hospital,” he said.
There are a few benefits for rural hospitals that decide to focus solely on outpatient services and emergency care, Gump told Commissioners. One of these is a facility fee that will be paid to hospitals to assist the facility in keeping doors open, and for Sturgis Hospital that amount will be approximately $270,000 a month. “That’s about a three million dollar a year difference,” Gump said, “and that’s about what the hospital loses a year.” He also spoke of a second benefit being a five percent increase in the hospital’s reimbursements, and that this transition will ultimately provide a financial upside for revenue, as well as a cost reduction when not operating an inpatient facility.
Mullins closed the discussion and report from Gump by thanking him for his continued work on the project. The mayor acknowledged misconceptions from the community, saying that because the transition did not occur on the projected date of January 1 some believe the hospital is no longer open. Mullins applauded Gump’s efforts in utilizing the press, meetings, and social media to spread the word regarding updates for the hospital. “It’s important that you’re out there doing that, and I appreciate you for clarifying it for everybody. Keep it up.”
Beca Welty is a staff writer and columnist for Watershed Voice.