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There was no little bit of sugar to help the message go down recently when the head of the Magnolia Regional Medical Center addressed the Magnolia City Council about the hospital’s economic health.

Rex Jones, MRMC chief executive officer, didn’t sugar-coat it when he said bluntly, “The financial condition of the facility right now is poor. In all honesty, and transparency … we’re struggling right now.”

There is no short and easy-to-understand explanation about why the hospital is suffering. Jones went into detail when he told the council about the economic challenges facing, not just our hospital, but rural hospitals across the nation.

In his remarks, reported in a Banner-News article, Jones related that financial figures for similar-size facilities throughout the state are overwhelmingly negative.

From Jones’s remarks, it’s clear that MRMC has been proactive in responding to the economic challenges. Changes have been made to better the facility’s financial health, he said, but cited as an example of financial factors beyond the hospital’s control the shift in healthcare reimbursements and how hospitals are paid across the country. It has been difficult, he said, to deal with how the federal government reimburses the hospital for health care provided. “For us, we get paid [though Medicare and Medicaid] throughout the year,” Jones said. “But at the end of the year, they do a cost report. If they like our numbers, then we get to keep the funds, and if they don’t like the numbers, then they take some of it back.”

Does this mean it’s all gloom and doom for our hospital?

No, there actually is some good news to report and, believe it or not, it comes from the government. “It looks like next year the federal government has finally seen that rural hospitals need help,” Jones said. “We should get another almost $700,000 per year from Medicare for taking care of the patients.” Also, MRMC could see an additional $190,000 per year because the hospital’s home health care has been rated extremely positive.

And, the hospital has cut costs significantly.

But there are also people who can greatly contribute to improving the hospital’s financial health. Those people are us, residents of Columbia County. Jones explained how we can support MRMC and help it through its economic struggles. He cited the case of the response after the hospital in De Queen was forced to close. After it was too late, it was recognized that the hospital had been under-utilized by the community.

“That’s the point we want to get across to everybody here,” Jones said. “If you want a facility, then you’ve got to use it.”

Jones acknowledged there are needs for local residents to be treated by specialists and that requires using out-of-town facilities. But, he said, “If that specialist says, ‘You need to get some lab-work done, you need to have a CT done, you need to have an MRI done’ — do those in Magnolia. That is an area that we can still make money and you don’t have to go out of town.”

Jones also said the radiology doctors who read results in Little Rock do the same thing here every Wednesday, and the local equipment is as good or better than most urban hospitals. “Even if your doctor [in Little Rock] says, ‘Hey, I’m going to send you down the street to get that CT scan done,’ you can say, ‘I want to do it in Magnolia,’” Jones said.

He is emphatic that MRMC provides as good or better care than any other hospital in the state.

It’s up to us whether we use it or lose it.

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