Virginia Governor Ralph Northam Rural Health Forum Eastern Shore

In a health care forum at Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital Feb. 3, Governor Ralph Northam called on legislators in Richmond to lend more support to rural health care, particularly on the Eastern Shore where residents are underinsured and collaborating health systems – like Riverside and Eastern Shore Rural Health – are consistently delivering a high percentage of charity care to ensure patients have the access to medical attention they need.

More than 180 community members attended the health care forum in person and another 500 watched via Facebook Live streaming video.

Joining Governor Northam at the forum, co-hosted by Riverside and Eastern Shore Rural Health, was Virginia State Senator Lynwood Lewis (D-Accomack), Delegate Rob Bloxom, Jr. (R-Accomack) and health care officials from the Eastern Shore.

Rural Health Forum Eastern Shore

“This hospital last year had $15 million of charity and other uncompensated care for the underinsured citizens of the Shore,” said Pete Lalor, Chair of the Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital Board. “I don’t think it’s something to be proud of, exactly, but it’s something to be grateful for.”

But it does send a signal, Lalor said, showing that “small rural hospitals are under enormous financial pressure and are closing their doors right and left.”

The Shore Memorial Hospital could have been among those forced to close before Riverside purchased it, Lalor said.

Pete Lalor Rural Health Forum Eastern Shore

“Health care on the Shore today is unimaginably good,” Lalor said. “The present is bright. If we want the future to be bright, we have to recognize that some changes have to be made.”

That is where Governor Northam comes in, Lalor said.

“Sometimes you don’t know what you have until you go elsewhere or if you go without something,” Northam said. “Health care on the Eastern Shore is excellent and you all have so much to be proud of.”

But there is room for improvement in rural regions of Virginia.

“We have a good opportunity with the make up of the legislature to get a lot of good things done,” Northam said, calling on legislators in Richmond to rally behind Medicaid expansion in Virginia.

“Part of the Affordable Care Act was the option for states to be part of Medicaid expansion,” Northam said, explaining that taxes Virginians pay already to Washington would be part of those funds. “What we are trying to do with Medicaid expansion is bring those resources back to Virginia. There are about 350,000 working Virginians who don’t have access to health care because the cost of health care has risen faster than their salaries.”

Plus, access to health care, Northam said, directly impacts Virginia’s ability to recruit and retain businesses in the state that create jobs.

“If we are going to help businesses grow, if we are going to attract new businesses, one of the first things they ask is how is health care,” Northam said, explaining that more than a third of rural Virginia hospitals are operating in the red. “What kind of message does that send?”

In the last year, more than 3,000 patients were admitted to Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital, 400 babies were born, residents benefited from access to local cancer care services and the Emergency Department had nearly 20,000 patient visits.

“This hospital is a great place to receive care and it’s a great place to give care,” Lalor said.

Total economic impact of the Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital on the community was approximately $98 million, in addition to the $90 million investment of the hospital itself, said John Peterman, Riverside Vice President and Administrator on the Eastern Shore.

John Peterman Rural Health Forum Eastern Shore

“You said you were going to build a beautiful hospital and you did,” Northam said, praising Riverside’s investment into health care on the Eastern Shore.

Now the focus needs to be on ensuring all residents have access to it and Peterman praised Eastern Shore legislators for discussing Medicaid rate settings, among other initiatives, in Richmond this General Assembly session.

“Virginia hospitals are paid 70 cents to the dollar by Medicaid,” Peterman said. “That number falls short of covering the actual cost of care to patients, patients who need our care desperately.”

Published: February 8, 2018