Big South Fork Medical Center received notification on Thursday that it has cleared one of two major hurdles needed to become designated as a critical-access hospital.

The hospital’s CEO, Hal Leftwich, made that announcement at a directors meeting of the Scott County Chamber of Commerce Thursday afternoon, saying he had received the phone call earlier in the day stating that state licensure officials had cleared the hospital for the critical access program. 

The state’s approval of the hospital’s application doesn’t complete the process. The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) must still approve the application, as well. That is a process that typically takes three-to-four months, Leftwich said.

Once the move to a critical access designation is complete, the hospital will receive federal reimbursements for Medicaid services that are more in line with those paid for Medicare services. Leftwich said that will be equivalent to about $2.5 million in additional annual revenue for the facility.

The critical access hospital program was established by the federal government in 1997 as a boost for small hospitals in rural areas. Qualifying hospitals must have 25 or fewer beds, have an average duration of hospital stay of four days or less, and be at least 35 miles from another hospital, among other requirements.

There are more than 1,300 critical access hospitals in rural America.

Leftwich said the change, which has been in the works for about a year, will not affect BSFMC’s capacity of 25 beds. He said the hospital has been averaging an in-patient census of about 11, which he said is about the maximum number of patients the hospital has staff in place to provide care for.

Big South Fork Medical Center is owned by Florida-based Rennova Health Services. Jellico Community Hospital in Campbell County is a sister hospital, as is Jamestown Regional Medical Center in Fentress County, though the latter closed in June 2019 and has not yet reopened.