Hospital receives critical designation, and that’s a good thing, officials say |

Hospital receives critical designation, and that’s a good thing, officials say

Aspen Valley Hospital is now a safer place to have surgery. It’s also going to receive increased federal funding. And officials are jubilant.At AVH’s board meeting last night, officials announced that they have completed mandated improvements to one of the hospital’s operating rooms. They’ve also secured the federal designation of “critical access,” which comes with an increase of $1 million in federal aid.The announcements represent a culmination of years of planning, according to officials.In 2002, the Joint Committee on Accreditation of Hospital Organization, an independent organization that evaluates hospitals across the nation, ruled that AVH’s operating area was overcrowded and must be improved by May 2005. One of three operating rooms was singled out by the accreditation committee to be too small for larger procedures.That problem has now been fixed, said operating room nurse Barrie Harms. Harms said increased space and new equipment has made the operating room state of the art. To achieve the expansion in an already overcrowded building, a complicated shuffling took place. The operating room expanded into an area that housed the cardiology unit. Cardiology moved to the old medical records center. And medical records replaced the hospital’s equipment storage center.”Everyone is better off,” Harms said. “It’s now a state-of-the-art operating theater.””If you need surgery,” board President John Sarpa added, “AVH is now the place to come.”Interim CEO Bob Karp also announced last night that the hospital had secured critical access status, a goal set by the hospital at the end of last year.Under recent congressional legislation, the federal government agreed to support isolated, rural hospitals deemed to offer critical medical access. While most hospitals receive only partial reimbursement for treating Medicare patients, critical access hospitals receive total reimbursement.Approximately 23 percent of AVH’s patients are billed through Medicare. Starting in September, the hospital will receive full reimbursement for services provided to these patients; officials estimate an additional $1 million in revenue a year.AVH, with its top-notch doctors and cosmopolitan patient base, doesn’t fit the traditional mold of critical-access hospitals, which often offer the only medical facilities available to remote communities. Yet because of AVH’s orientation toward outpatients (32,000 outpatients last year, compared to 1,900 who stay overnight), the hospital was able to meet the most important critical access requirement – it does not fill more than 25 beds per night except in times of emergency. Currently, AVH fills an average of only 14 beds a night. “This took a lot of planning by a lot of people,” Karp said. “It’s what a lot of people were hoping for.”Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is

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