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Cochise Regional Hospital in Arizona to close after Medicare stops reimbursements over safety

Medicare regulators found a number of concerns with nursing care and patient management.

Image of Cochise Regional Hospital from <a href="">Facebook</a>.Image of Cochise Regional Hospital from Facebook.

The 25-bed Cochise Regional Hospital in Douglas, Arizona, is set to close at the end of July, after Medicare took the rare action of cutting off funding based on findings from several compliance and safety investigations.

Medicare is not forcing the hospital to close, but the agency's decision to cease payments effective July 10 makes it impossible to operate and keep paying employees and bills.

Between February 2014 and March of this year, Medicare regulators conducted four surveys at the Cochise Regional, located 120 miles south Tucson, and found a number of concerns with nursing care and patient management.

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In one case, as the Arizona Daily Sun noted, nurses left a heart failure patient unattended and unmonitored while he was waiting for a ride to a dialysis clinic. He ended up becoming unresponsive, was airlifted to a hospital in Tucson, and died. Medicare recently decided to stop reimbursement to the facility.

The hospital has long been struggling financially, with recent changing ownership and policy changes. In 2014, the Southeast Arizona Medical Center was facing bankruptcy when it was taken over by People's Choice Hospital, an Illinois-based company operating distressed facilities. Not long after, CMS began investigating patient care adequacy at the hospital.

Cochise Regional has appealed the decision and, in the interim, asked a judge to require Medicare to keep paying claims. "Absent the reinstatement of Medicare coverage to Cochise Regional Hospital, the hospital lacks the funds to continue to operate, and will be closing its doors on Friday," said Harley Goldstein, an attorney representing the hospital. and People's Choice.

If it closes, Cochise will be the 55th hospital to shut down since 2010 and one of more than 250 financially distressed rural hospitals facing the possibility of bankruptcy or closure. About 70 employees will lose their jobs and a local population of roughly 20,000 people will have to travel 25 miles to the nearest hospital, though they still have primary care options close to home.

About 25 miles away from Douglas is the Copper Queen Community Hospital in Bisbee, a 25-bed critical access hospital that also runs a community clinic in Douglas. Almost 55 miles away for more advanced care is the Canyon Vista Medical Center, a new 100-bed hospital. 

Are rural hospitals on the road to ruin?