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Cardiac rehab center will remain closed

By STEVE KADEL, Herald and News 5/4/08
H&N Staff Writer

   Sky Lakes Medical Center officials will not reconsider their decision to close the cardiac rehabilitation depar tment despite an outcry from heart patients who use the program.
   Heart attack survivors are circulating petitions aimed at heading off closure, which becomes effective May 30. It is part of the hospital’s decision to close three departments and lay off 11 people.
   Ho spit a l sp oke sm a n Tom Hottman said it’s unfortunate the popular prog ra m is being cu rta iled, but the change i s for c e d by a r e duc - tion in Medicare reimbu r s ement s. Me d ic a r e pay ments, wh ich have declined for eight consecutive quarters, now provide just 43 percent of the cost of service, he said.
   “It is fair to neither the patients nor the providers,” Hottman said, adding the rehab program had been subsidized by other hospital income sources for years.
   In a letter to rehab clients, Sky Lakes president and CEO Paul Stewart and vice president of support services Leslie Flick said it was time to evaluate some “ancillary services” provided by the hospital.
   “It is imperative that the hospital’s resources be focused on those services that are core to the business of Sky Lakes Medical Center — that of an acute care hospital,” they wrote.
   Lisa Lucero, a physical therapist and director of Sky Lakes’ rehabilitation services, said phasing out the cardiac program “is difficult for everybody.”
   “It is not that this program isn’t valued,” she said. “We are in a place where we are trying to put all our resources back into core areas. Unfortunately, we have to be more fiscally focused and ensure that we are here in 10 years as a hospital for this community.”
   Smaller rural hospitals such as Sky Lakes — those that don’t perform heart surgeries — traditionally don’t offer such things as the cardiac rehab program, she said.
   “I was so impressed for what we have done for so long,” Lucero said.
   She added that the push by patients to have the program reinstated “is a testament to the program and the incredibly talented individuals who have been running it.”
   In a letter announcing the closure, Sky Lakes officials listed several local facilities that provide rehabilitation services. However, heart patients say those are “non-monitored,” meaning there’s no trained medical staff to monitor such things as blood pressure and heart rate while they exercise.
   Further harm
   Without mon it or i ng, many heart patients say the chance exists for doing further cardiac harm. The closest other facility that offers monitored sessions is Rogue Valley Medical Center in Medford.
   Heart patients also say it’s reassuring to know that trained hospital staff members are near to the Sky Lakes rehab center in case someone has a physical problem while exercising.
   Some who use the prog ram have sa id they ’d pay out of their pocket to keep the program going. Others suggested writing grant proposals for extra funding.
   Hottma n sa id those approaches are not practical.
   If people choose to pay extra, he said, they run the risk of jeopardizing other benefits they receive through Medicare.
   “I can’t get the difference (in cost) from individuals because it’s illegal,” Hottman said.
   H o s p i t a l o f f i c i a l s declined to say how much closing the program will save each year, but Hottman said the amount is in six figures. It would take millions of dollars to establish an endowment to fund the program each year, he added.
   Patients could make a donation to the hospital foundation, but Hottman said that money would go into a general fund with no assurance it would be used for cardiac rehab.
   The situation is frustrating for health care providers as well as patients.
   “This is a symptom of greater issues, which is Medicare reimbursement,” Hottman said. “It goes back to our national healthcare policy. Why does our national policy choose not to invest in prevention?”
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