Leader Blues

Friday, October 10, 2008

TOP STORY > >How hospital might operate

Leader staff writer

In order to shore up the financial base of North Metro Medical Center, the hospital’s board of directors is considering converting the facility to a long-term acute care hospital.

The hope is that the higher rate of insurance reimbursement garnered for long-term care would strengthen the hospital’s revenue stream, making it possible to keep doors open to continue vital services to the community, especially emergency care.

Opening a long-term acute care hospital, or LTACH as it is known in the health care industry, is part of negotiations underway between the hospital board and Allegiance Health Management, a Shreveport-based firm with LTACH’s in Little Rock and Greenville, Mississippi.

Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim, who is also chairman of North Metro’s board of directors, met with representatives of Allegiance on Thursday. He said that no firm date is yet in sight for concluding negotiations. A lease agreement and other financial arrangements must be settled in order for the hospital facility to be turned over to Allegiance.

Allegiance recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of its LTACH at the former Southwest Regional Medical Center in Little Rock, now owned by Baptist Health. Allegiance leases the second floor of the hospital and has license for 40 beds; 20 are currently occupied.

Allegiance leases the second floor of the hospital and has license for 40 beds; 20 are currently occupied.

“Occupancy varies and is much higher in the fall and winter, with pneumonia, flu and other respiratory problems,” said Kristen Burton, director of public relations for Allegiance Specialty Hospital in Little Rock.

An LTACH is much different than a rehabilitation center, such as the one that closed at North Metro due to lack of profitability.

Similar centers exist at North Metro’s two main competitors, St. Vincent Medical Center in Sherwood and Baptist Health in North Little Rock.

A rehabilitation center cares for patients with comparatively much less complex medical problems, such as a broken hip or recuperation from an illness. Patients who go to an LTACH have more complex medical problems and often require a ventilator.

The average stay is 25 days. Many come directly from a hospital intensive-care unit and need the same focused around-the-clock attention.

Conditions treated at Al-legiance’s Little Rock LTACH include cardiac and multi-system failure, ventilator dependence, infectious, renal and respiratory diseases, malnutrition, complex wound care, re-constructive and long-term post-surgical care, and other medically complex needs, according to a press release.

The Little Rock LTACH recently added to services a ventilator-weaning program. The Respironics ventilator device used allows patients to speak without an external valve; the hospital touts the device as the only one of its kind in central Arkansas.

Other LTACH’s in Arkansas include St. Vincent Select Specialty Hospital at Little Rock, Baptist Extended Care Hospital at Little Rock, Advanced Care Hospital at Searcy, Regency Hospital at Springdale, and Advance Care Hospital at Hot Springs, as well as Fort Smith.