Improving access to rehab services

Published 4:54 pm Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dear Editor,

Since October 2009, HealthSouth has sought to build a new, state-of-the-art, 34-bed inpatient rehabilitation hospital in Shelby County, a $20 million investment that would create 125 new jobs in the fastest growing county in our state.

The need in Shelby County is evident.

All rehabilitation beds in Region 3, an 11-county region with a total of 289 licensed rehabilitation beds, are located in Jefferson County.

HealthSouth’s own Lakeshore Rehabilitation Hospital in Jefferson County is functioning at full occupancy and, at times, not able to accept patients who need the advanced rehabilitation services offered in a hospital setting. And, nursing homes in Shelby County are at 96.4 percent occupancy.

The support for this hospital is also evident: The citizens, physicians, business and community leaders, elected officials (including the entire Shelby County Commission), numerous municipalities as well as a majority of the Shelby County legislative delegation all unanimously support our efforts to build this hospital.

Unfortunately, the powerful and well-funded nursing home lobby has opposed our attempts to improve access to rehabilitation services.

They claim there are no differences between their services and services provided in rehabilitation hospitals like ours.

This is simply not true. Inpatient rehabilitation hospitals are licensed as acute care hospitals and, as such, must adhere to very strict hospital standards.

In fact, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare, the agency charged with overseeing the Medicare program, recently disagreed with arguments from nursing homes that they provide the same services and outcomes compared to rehabilitation hospitals. Specifically, CMS cited a study by the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation that showed 81.1 percent of inpatient rehabilitation hospital patients were discharged to home, compared to 45.5 percent of nursing home or skilled nursing facility residents.

Fortunately, Governor Bentley’s appointees to the state healthcare regulatory boards have an opportunity to positively change how access to healthcare services can be improved in Alabama. And judging by his public statements, Gov. Bentley is demanding that patient’s needs, not political influence, take precedent.

He also welcomed competition among healthcare providers and charged Alabama’s two state healthcare regulatory boards to “shift the focus to patients” and patient care and to implement and approve plans “that lead to better outcomes.”

That is precisely how we feel at HealthSouth, which is why Gov. Bentley’s words are so encouraging. We know our services are wanted – and needed – in Shelby County.

Jay Grinney is the president and chief executive officer of HealthSouth.