Natchez Regional gets OK for rehab unit

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 11, 2001

It wasn’t a surprise, but Natchez Regional Medical Center CEO Jack Houghton is still pleased that the hospital’s gamble on a rehabilitation center paid off.

On Wednesday, Mississippi’s board of health approved changes to state regulations that will allow Natchez Regional eventually to receive Medicare reimbursements for its rehab services. The hospital opened a rehab unit last October, despite the fact that it could not receive certificate of need status from the state board of health.

&uot;The board of health passed an amendment to the health plan that grandfathers our existing rehab program at Natchez Regional,&uot; Houghton said. &uot;It recognizes our existing services, one of two Level 2 rehab services in the state.&uot;

Email newsletter signup

Previous board of health rules prevented Natchez Regional from receiving Medicare reimbursements for the new services because other rehab services are available within a 65-mile radius of Natchez. Natchez Regional officials argued that the 65-mile radius should be lowered to allow Natchez to have a rehab unit.

Last fall, Natchez Regional officials opened a rehab center anyway, a few days before the start of the fiscal year, based on a state attorney general’s opinion that said the hospital did not have to have certificate of need approval for non-comprehensive rehab services.

NRMC knew in October that a board of health committee had recommended the hospital’s program be grandfathered.

&uot;We’re very pleased that the board of health passed the new regulations which recognize and legitimize our rehab,&uot; Houghton said.

Natchez Regional will still have to wait until Oct. 1 of this year to begin receiving the higher Medicare reimbursements; any hospital beginning such a program would have to wait a year after establishment to begin receiving the money, Houghton said.

The hope is that the new services will help offset financial losses the hospital has experienced as a result of 1996’s Balanced Budget Act, which tightened the amount of money hospitals receive from Medicare.

And Houghton said Wednesday’s decision also opens the door for Natchez Regional to expand its rehab services as early as this spring. Currently, the hospital offers non-comprehensive rehab with treatment for strokes, hip fractures, total joint replacements and polyarthritis.

Expanded services would be &uot;a catch-all category for anyone that might require or would benefit from rehabilitation following surgery or a hospital stay,&uot; Houghton said. &uot;If we’re approved by the board of health, it would extend rehab services to patients who would otherwise not receive that level of care.&uot;