Georgia's Trusted Healthcare
& Medical Provider Attorneys

DCH Adopts New Rules for Rural Hospitals

DCH Rural HospitalsA potential solution to rural hospitals’ funding challenges

A few months ago, the Georgia Board of Community Health (DCH) adopted new rules that allow rural hospitals to reduce the scope of services provided and operate as a rural free standing emergency department. This provides an alternative to closing down operations for rural hospitals which may be struggling with funding operations on a full service scale. It also provides an opportunity for rural hospitals that recently ceased operations (and have either maintained a current DCH license or their license expired within the last 12 months) to re-open their doors.

Hospitals interested in pursuing this course of action must meet certain conditions including:

  1. The hospital must be located in a rural county (population under 35,000);
  2. The hospital must be located within 35 miles of a licensed general hospital;
  3. The hospital must be open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; and
  4. The hospital must provide non-elective emergency treatment for periods continuing less than 24 hours.

Like the general and specialized hospitals, the rural free standing emergency department must obtain a permit to operate, as well as a specific license to operate as a rural free standing emergency department.

The new rules also require that specific operational elements be put in place. For example, a free standing emergency department must attempt to enter into an agreement with the surrounding hospitals and provide in that agreement a mechanism for patient transfer.

One controversial requirement set forth in the new rules is the requirement to provide certain medical services to patients such as medical screenings and treatment to stabilize without considering the individual’s ability to pay. Jimmy Lewis, CEO of the Georgia Rural Hospital trade organization, has stated that this rule may be unfair to the new stand-alone EDs because the transferee hospital “most often objects if the patient is a no-pay thus keeping the patient in the ED beyond licensure capability.” See http://www.hometownhealthonline.com/blog.

Furthermore, rural free standing EDs will have to bill Medicare and Medicaid at a lower provider rate rather than the current hospital rates. As of May 20, 2014, the application to become a rural free standing emergency department was made available by DCH. See http://dch.georgia.gov/documents/rural-freestanding-emergency-department- application-packet-5192014. According to DCH’s instructions, hospitals should submit a completed application along with supporting documentation at least 6 weeks prior to the planned opening date of the facility. If you are a hospital considering taking this step, the following items should be obtainedand/or completed to support your application:

  1. evidence that the hospital’s Certificate of Need authorization is still active;
  2. an application for a permit;
  3. notarized affidavits regarding ownership identification;
  4. a written request to conduct an initial licensure survey; and
  5. a statement from the local fire safety authority stating that an inspection has been made of the premises and that the state and local fire safety requirements have been met and the facility is approved for occupancy.

If you have any questions or would like legal assistance,  please contact Danielle Hildebrand at dhildebrand@jeylaw.com.