Legislation that will provide a permanent solution to federal rules that had formerly prevented Cass County's Ah-Gwah-Ching from being designated as a Critical Access Hospital has been introduced.
Minnesota Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, and Rep. Jim Oberstar introduced legislation, which is designed to permanently bring Cass County residents closer to an emergency room.
While a 2008 federal rule change by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services allowed Cass County to get a new emergency hospital, the federal legislators are seeking a permanent solution to secure Critical Access Hospital designation for the site.
Cass is one of only three Minnesota counties without an emergency-access hospital. Residents of north central Cass County have to travel up to an hour or more to hospitals in Bemidji, Park Rapids, Deer River, Crosby, Staples or Brainerd to seek urgent care in emergency rooms.
In 2006, the Cass County Health Task Force worked with state, county and local officials to turn the Ah-Gwah-Ching long-term care facility into an integrated medical campus that would include a 25-bed critical access hospital. However, a federal rule required emergency hospitals to be spaced at least 35 miles apart. Because Ah-Gwah-Ching is 31.9 miles from Park Rapids, it was not eligible for CAH status and subsequently not eligible for full Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements.
In 2008, the Centers For Medicare and Medicaid Services changed its rule and announced Cass County could apply for CAH status. Although the rule change allowed Cass County to move forward with its hospital project, the three federal lawmakers said their legislation will ensure the Ah-Gwah-Ching facility cannot lose its CAH status.
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