Buckhannon mayor and Upshur County Development Authority Director Robbie Skinner addresses the Rotary Club of Buckhannon-Upshur at a recent meeting. / Photo by Monica Zalaznik

Upshur County Development Authority director updates Rotary members on St. Joseph’s Hospital’s fight to retain Critical Access status

BUCKHANNON – The director of the Upshur County Development Authority recently discussed the organization’s ongoing efforts to assist St. Joseph’s Hospital in maintaining its status as a Critical Access Hospital.

Upshur County Development Authority Director and Buckhannon Mayor Robbie Skinner attended the Nov. 7 Rotary Club of Buckhannon-Upshur meeting to talk about the UCDA’s recent efforts to help preserve St. Joseph’s Critical Access certification.

“Critical Access is a federal designation; it’s all about how much Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement the hospital receives,” Skinner said. “That reimbursement as a Critical Access Hospital is much higher than being a PPS Hospital (Prospective Payment Systems Hospital), which Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hospital in Weston is. We are a Critical Access Hospital, and they cannot be a Critical Access Hospital because they have an interstate highway running through their county, which we do not.”

Skinner said there are a lot of rules about becoming a Critical Access Hospital, including a hospital’s proximity to other treatment centers. He explained that should Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hospital relocate and build a new facility close to Exit 99 off I-79, it would still not be eligible for the designation due to its proximity to the interstate; however, St. Joseph’s Hospital could lose its Critical Access status because the two hospitals would now be within 15 miles of each other.

“Right now, where Stonewall Jackson is located, that is over the 15-mile bubble for St. Joe’s,” Skinner said. “Weston and Buckhannon are the two closest geographic county seats situated in West Virginia. There are no two county seats that are closer together – 14.4 miles separate downtown Weston and downtown Buckhannon – and their hospital is on the west end of their city, therefore, it allows us to operate and coexist. If they come across I-79, that puts them around 12 miles away from our hospital.”

According to a previous My Buckhannon article, Stonewall Memorial Jackson Hospital wants to begin construction on a $56-million-dollar acute care hospital it plans to build on Staunton Drive behind Sheetz in Weston, close to Interstate 79.

To do that, they must receive approval from the West Virginia Health Care Authority, a state agency. Skinner outlined the process a hospital must undergo to obtain a Certificate of Need and noted that during the 2023 Regular Legislative Session, lawmakers raised the bar on how much a hospital had to spend on improvements or renovations before a project was subject to a CON review.

“At the state level, we have what’s called a Certificate of Need, so anytime a hospital would need to advance a service, make any sort of addition to its physical plant or the things it offers at the hospital, you have to undergo a Certificate of Need process, and then the Health Care Authority would grant [or deny] your Certificate of Need,” Skinner said. “We had a change in legislation, and the threshold was taken from $5 million to $100 million, so if you want to advance your physical plant at your hospital, that threshold is now $100 million.”

Skinner noted that while it was difficult to build a new hospital under the previous threshold, Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hospital plans to keep its costs well under the new $100 million level. Because of this, the Health Care Authority granted SJMH permission to construct the new hospital — a decision that is now on hold, Skinner noted.

“A lot of good things have happened since the end of the legislative session,” Skinner said. “The [West Virginia] Intermediate Court of Appeals has given Stonewall Jackson an order of stay, which means they cannot build, they cannot break ground, they can’t seek funding, they can’t do anything over there.”

The stay is in effect as the courts consider whether the Health Care Authority was correct in exempting SJMH because of the law change increasing the threshold amount. Skinner noted that the threshold is only one part of the Certificate of Need review process.

“[The law] still says construction must be on your campus,” he said.

Skinner said St. Joseph’s Hospital is the largest employer in the county, and losing its Critical Access classification could have the single most significant economic impact on the Buckhannon-Upshur community.

“There is a chance that if we do not maintain our Critical Access status, we might not continue to see a medical center like we have in this community, and that would be detrimental to all the progress in the quality of life that we have here,” Skinner said. “St. Joe’s is near and dear to our community, and we as a community are going to have to put a rally cry out to Charleston and to Washington, D.C., to make sure that we remain a viable hospital. The quality of service we provide is higher than it’s ever been, and yet we still find ourselves, in some ways, fighting for our survival — and it’s all wrapped up in legislation.”

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