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<p>The fate of Yadkin Valley Community Hospital remains in the air as the county regains possession of the property.
By Taylor Sisk
A federal judge ordered the former operators of Yadkin Valley Community Hospital in Yadkinville to hand over the keys to the hospital to county government officials.
The judge issued the order on Wednesday, and gave HMC/CAH Consolidated Inc., a Missouri-based private equity firm that had run the hospital since 2010, until 5 p.m. the same day to provide access. Yadkin County owns the building.
Judge Terrence Boyle of the Eastern District Court of North Carolina further ordered that HMC/CAH not remove any property from the facility. And he ordered that within five days the company file a list of property for which it claims ownership or rights.
Boyle withdrew a July 16 deadline the county had been given to submit a plan for reopening the hospital. The judge decided the county has no deadline to resume operations.
Managers from HMC/CAH shut down Yadkin Valley Community Hospital abruptly on May 22. Boyle ruled on June 16 that HMC/CAH was in contempt of court for closing the 22-bed facility when a temporary restraining order to keep it open was in effect.
The company had operated the hospital under a lease agreement that was due to expire July 31. The county is now looking for a hospital operator to reopen it. Officials have been in negotiations with Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital in nearby Elkin.
An alternative future
The county has indicated an interest in reopening the hospital under a different model.
On July 6, the Yadkin County Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution in support of a Congressional bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) titled the “Rural Emergency Acute Care Hospital Act.”
The bill calls for critical access hospitals to have the option to be redesignated as “rural emergency hospitals,” which would allow them to continue to provide emergency medical services without having to maintain inpatient beds.
Yadkin Valley Community Hospital is a critical access hospital, a designation given by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that allows hospitals in rural areas to receive special reimbursement in exchange for offering services that wouldn’t otherwise be available in the community. Under current law, critical access hospitals must provide inpatient beds.
A recent study by the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research found that hospitals in small rural areas have an average of six inpatients on any given day.
The Grassley bill would also provide for reimbursement rates higher than current rates.
Asked on Thursday if the commissioners’ endorsement of Grassley’s bill could be interpreted as a desire for the county to have that redesignation as an option, Edward Powell, the county’s attorney, said, “Absolutely.”
Powell said he believes that no longer having to maintain inpatient services would attract more candidates to manage and reopen the hospital.
“We think that’s an answer to the prayers of the people of Yadkin County,” he said.
Issues to resolve
Among the issues the county must resolve before the hospital can be reopened is the condition of medical records. Powell said patient records were found in disarray, with many left lying on the floor.
Also at issue is the resolution of property. All property that was on the premises when HMC/CAH took over the lease reverts to the county. All property, such as X-ray machines, acquired since the beginning of the HMC/CAH lease becomes the county’s, subject to the county paying the costs minus depreciation.
“We’ve had a great deal of difficulty getting an accurate and complete list of that property,” Powell said.
“In order to have a discussion with any [potential new operator of the facility],” he said, “you’ve got to be able to tell them what’s there and what they’ll need, and we haven’t been able to do that.”
Of further concern is the fact that the hospital’s license was surrendered to the county rather than being transferred to another operator. That could cause a delay in reopening.[box style=”2″]This story was made possible by a grant from the Winston-Salem Foundation to examine issues in rural health in North Carolina. [/box]