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Clinic won’t close after all

Staff writer

Herington Hospital has changed its mind about closing its Hillsboro Clinic.

The hospital announced Jan. 7 that it would close the embattled clinic effective April 30, blaming federal legislation that reduces the amount of money paid by Medicare.

Now it plans to keep the clinic going.

Herington Hospital’s chief financial officer Bryan Coffey said the hospital administration believes legislators are going to “correct” a law passed in late December that capped Medicare payments for new rural health care clinics at $100 a visit. A provision in that law made the cap retroactive to December 2019.

“I do know there’s been an outpouring of calls to congressmen and senators — to my understanding,” Coffey said. “Every indication I have is that legislators will address that retroactive component, which does paint a different picture for us.”

Coffey said the clinic earlier passed requirements to be deemed a rural health care clinic but paperwork has not been drawn up to make the designation official. He expects that when the paperwork is properly filed, the clinic will be “grandfathered” in as a rural health care clinic. That will make Hillsboro Clinic no longer subject to the payment cap — if the law gets corrected to remove its retroactive component.

“It would then mean we would not be considered a ‘new clinic’ subject to the ruling,” Coffey said.

The higher payments will make a difference between the clinic being successful or not, he said.

“From my standpoint, I know that when this gets fixed in congress and when we get grandfathered in, it is a feasible financial picture,” Coffey said. “I know that fixing this law means that financial position will change.”

City attorney Brad Jantz earlier said the city would need to draft a resolution so the clinic could be operated in Hillsboro, but Coffey disagreed.

“There’s no law that says Herington hospital cannot operate in Hillsboro,” Coffey said. “No one has shown me the law that says we can’t operate in Hillsboro.”

An attorney general’s opinion that said a county-funded hospital is not being permitted to expand outside its territory doesn’t apply to Herington because it’s a city-funded hospital, Coffey said.

“Even if the attorney general does say that, it’s only one attorney’s opinion,” Coffey said.

The hospital has changed its plans for the scope of medical services it will provide in Hillsboro, he said. Originally, it planned to offer surgical services, but now plans only to offer exams and diagnostic procedures after Hillsboro city administrators said zoning regulations would not allow more at that site.

As of now, plans for diagnostic procedures such as colonoscopies are off, Coffey said.

Meanwhile, work continues on the clinic building in downtown Hillsboro.

Coffey said he expects work on the outside of the building to be completed by the end of March.

Operation of the clinic is under fire from a lawsuit filed Jan. 5 by Herington resident Robert Danzman.

The suit challenges the hospital’s legal authority to purchase, build, renovate, or expand into Hillsboro. It also calls for an independent audit of the hospital’s finances and its use of federal coronavirus funding.

One thing Danzman questioned is the hospital’s $100,000 gift to a splash pad project being developed in Hillsboro. He wants to know if that money was part of funding given to the hospital for COVID-19 relief.

Coffey called Danzman’s suit “frivolous.”

“Danzman raised a lot of chaff,” Coffey said.

Apparently chief executive officer Isabel Schmedemann agreed.

In a paid advertisement in the Dickinson County News-Times, she wrote: “What is hugely frustrating right now is that those of us that know our industry so well and who have done the right things to move this organization forward are being thwarted by a small but loud group that is casting unjustified doubt.”

She said: “our operations in Hillsboro have helped that community. Until all of the ‘fake news,’ we enjoyed high patient satisfaction and support from citizens in that community. For anyone to make an issue of broadening our footprint is even more proof of the lack of understanding of the tremendous positive impact that improving our patient base can have on the Herington community.”

Last modified Feb. 10, 2021

 

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