Lucas fights to keep Oklahoma hospital open through new legislation

U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OH) this week proposed a bill that would permit a rural hospital in southwest Oklahoma to stay open and continue serving the community.

“As more and more rural hospitals across the country close their doors, it’s important that we keep Oklahoma’s rural hospitals open and operational,” Rep. Lucas said on Wednesday. Nine hospitals have closed in Oklahoma between 2005 and 2020.

Harmon Memorial Hospital in Hollis, Okla., is at risk of closing. It became a Critical Access Hospital (CAH) in 2016. However, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) revoked the hospital’s CAH status in 2019 due to an administrative error, according to information provided by the congressman’s staff. In response to the advocacy efforts of Rep. Lucas and other members of the Oklahoma delegation, in October 2019, CMS allowed the hospital to remain as a CAH for two additional years.

The Oklahoma congressional delegation pushed earlier this year to allow Harmon to remain a Critical Access Hospital until CMS implements a new Rural Emergency Hospital designation for Harmon. In addition, in June, CMS determined that the COVID-19 public health emergency would not count toward Harmon’s two-year CAH extension, allowing Harmon to remain open for nearly 20 months after the public health emergency ends, Rep. Lucas’ office explained.

In order to prevent Harmon Memorial Hospital from potentially closing, Rep. Lucas introduced the Helping Account for Rural Medical Outpatient Needs in Oklahoma Act, or the HARMON Oklahoma Act, H.R. 5753, to ensure the hospital can remain open as a CAH until it can transition to a Medicare Rural Emergency Hospital.

U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and James Lankford (R-OK) introduced the Senate version of the HARMON Oklahoma Act, S. 3085, on Oct. 27.

“After years of back-and-forth communication with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), I was happy to hear that CMS has provided flexibility and extended the hospital’s designation as a critical access hospital,” Rep. Lucas said. “But to ensure these issues don’t arise again, Congress must pass the HARMON Oklahoma Act, ensuring Harmon Memorial Hospital can continue to provide local health care for our communities.”

Harmon Memorial Hospital CEO Steve Hartgraves thanked the lawmakers for their continued support to keep the hospital open.

“The HARMON Oklahoma Act will allow our local healthcare professionals to continue providing valuable primary and emergency care services for people living in southwest Oklahoma as we wait for our Rural Emergency Hospital designation,” Hartgraves said.