KURT SCHAEFER

(Editor’s note: This bill — how it might help Texas County Memorial Hospital — was discussed during a recent TCMH board of trustees.

Boone Hospital Center and Cooper County Memorial Hospital in Boonville would have the ability to partner for certain aspects of purchasing and operations if legislation moving through the Missouri House and Senate can get the governor’s signature.

Currently, county hospitals operate under state statutes that do not allow partnership agreements. Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, has introduced Senate Bill 763 while Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, has co-sponsored House Bill 1616.

“What hospitals are facing now with economic pressures and difficulty surviving, it makes sense for them to enter into agreements for purchasing and other aspects of operations for economy of scale,” Schaefer said. “They have no ability under law right now to enter into these agreements, county to county.”

Cooper County Memorial Hospital officials held a public forum last summer to warn that the hospital might close within a year if its admissions did not increase. Cooper County and other rural hospitals are struggling for a variety of reasons, including new reimbursement methods and requirements under the Affordable Care Act.

The nearly identical bills do not establish the ability for county hospitals to merge but provide the more-rural Cooper County hospital “a better economic shot at surviving,” Schaefer said.

Jim Sinek, president of Boone Hospital Center, told his hospital’s board of trustees there is so far no opposition to the bills.

“There are no counties coming out of the woodwork saying, ‘Hey, we’re against this,’ ” Sinek said. Representatives of Boone Hospital; its parent company, BJC HealthCare; and the Missouri Hospital Association have testified on behalf of the House bill.

Boone Hospital trustees also learned the legislation likely will be expanded to include other county hospitals. Schaefer confirmed that possibility.

“By the time we finish with the bill, it’s probably going to be more encompassing for other counties,” he said.

Rural hospitals might not be attractive to larger health systems, but a hospital like Boone, which is affiliated with BJC, might present “a tremendous opportunity” for Cooper County Memorial, Schaefer said.

Mike Conway, chairman of the Cooper County Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees, said the hospital has no plan or agreement in place with Boone Hospital, but the legislation would create an option for some sort of partnership or affiliation.

“I don’t know that there’s any immediate use of” the possible statute change, “but it could be an option long-term,” he said, noting that Cooper County is in talks with Rural Community Hospitals of America, a hospital management firm, about an affiliation.

“Rural hospitals in general are struggling,” Conway said. “I don’t know that that’s the Affordable Care Act. It’s been a difficult road for many rural hospitals for a number of years now.”

“Hospitals that offer everything to everybody that are in rural areas … are probably not going to be economically viable,” Schaefer said.

COLUMBIA DAILY TRIBUNE

What hospitals are facing now with economic pressures and difficulty surviving, it makes sense for them to enter into agreements for purchasing and other aspects of operations for economy of scale. They have no ability under law right now to enter into these agreements, county to county.”

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