POCAHONTAS – St. Bernards Five Rivers Medical Center will adopt a newly established Rural Emergency Hospital (REH) designation on September 1 to bolster emergency and outpatient services within Randolph County.
The designation took effect at the federal level on January 1, 2023. It requires that participating hospitals have no more than 50 beds, provide 24/7 emergency services and observation care, keep a clinician on-call and available on-site within 30 minutes and maintain average annual patient stays at 24 hours or fewer, transferring those patients to receive further care if needed.
St. Bernards Five Rivers Medical Center Administrator Randy Barymon said the hospital has growing demand for both outpatient and emergency services. The new designation, he added, helps it adapt to these evolving needs.
“More than ninety-five percent of the patients we see need outpatient, emergency or observation care that doesn’t require a lengthy hospital stay,” Barymon said. “That percentage is growing, too. These are vital services to maintain, and where possible, expand.”
Barymon said rural hospitals across the nation face challenges to provide longer care for patients, including staffing and rapidly increasing costs.
“Recent reports cite that nearly three in ten rural hospitals across the United States may close without making changes,” he said. “As a smaller, rural hospital aligned within a healthcare system, however, we can make proactive changes that better position us for the future,” he said.
St. Bernards Five Rivers Advisory Board member Kyle Baltz said a growing population in Pocahontas and rising industry throughout Randolph County spur a need for creative solutions.
“Pocahontas has grown more than ten percent the past ten years,” Baltz said. “Before people move to a rural community like ours, they look at access to gainful employment, a low cost of living and quality education and healthcare options. We need St. Bernards Five Rivers open and operating around the clock because it helps keep our community healthy and thriving.”
Barymon said key discussions with the hospital’s advisory board helped it develop a plan that works best for Pocahontas and its surrounding communities. That plan included St. Bernards retaining all hospital team members and medical staff following the transition.
“We share an inextricable bond with Randolph County, so we placed the needs of its 18,000-plus residents at the forefront when making our decision,” Barymon said.
The REH’s patient stay requirement necessitated that St. Bernards Five Rivers implement an enhanced transfer process. Barymon said the hospital operates a capable and efficient emergency department that already helps it meet the requirement. Still, he added that as part of the St. Bernards Healthcare system, St. Bernards Five Rivers developed a strategic plan for patients who need ongoing care.
“We have incredible partnerships throughout this region, including the largest, most-advanced hospital, St. Bernards Medical Center,” he said. “It’s important our community members know they will have an available bed nearby and ready.”
Dr. Scott Lewis, Medical and Trauma Director at St. Bernards Five Rivers, echoed Barymon’s sentiments, saying the hospital has an opportunity to secure Pocahontas with thriving emergency and outpatient services.
“When patients come to our Emergency Department, they can expect care that’s built upon a seventy-plus year legacy,” he said.
In addition to providing emergency medicine, Dr. Lewis co-chairs Arkansas’ Quality Improvement Subcommittee on Trauma. He said the change at St. Bernards Five Rivers reflects the committee’s work to streamline and improve care for trauma patients throughout the state.
“Wherever they are, Arkansans should expect responsive and capable emergent and trauma care should they need it,” he said. “We believe in this Rural Emergency Hospital change because it helps us fulfill that promise.”
The transition marks the first hospital in the state of Arkansas to receive the REH designation. The change highlights much of the progress at St. Bernards Five Rivers within the past year, including:
- Adding a fifth emergency medicine physician to the medical staff,
- Receiving awards for stroke and heart care through the American Heart Association,
- Opening a pain management clinic that specializes in non-opioid treatments,
- Participating in a Delta Regional Authority program to enhance healthcare delivery, and
- Collaborating with St. Bernards Medical Center to provide expanded infusion services in Pocahontas.
Finally, in addition to offering improved, streamlined services through the REH designation, the hospital can expect to receive Medicare reimbursement rates at 105 percent for outpatient services and a standard monthly facility payment, helping it continue to steward resources appropriately.
Arkansas legislators approved the newest hospital classification in early February, passing House Bill 1127 by a vote of 95-1 in the Arkansas House of Representative and 34-0 in the State Senate. Gov. Sarah Huckabee-Sanders subsequently signed the legislation, known as the Rural Emergency Hospital Act, on February 14, 2023, opening the door for Arkansas hospitals and healthcare systems to consider implementing the new designation.
For more information, visit https://www.stbernards.info/five-rivers or call 870.207.7300.