Alabama legislature approves Rural Hospital Resource Center

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The Alabama Legislature has approved a bill to create a resource center housed at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Health System to provide support for nonprofit, rural, public hospitals in the state that are facing economic pressures.

SB351, sponsored by Jasper-Republican state Sen. Greg Reed and it’s House companion bill HB446 sponsored by Cullman-Republican Randall Shedd, would create the Alabama Rural Hospital Resource Center, staffed and managed by the UAB Health System. It would assist rural public hospitals in areas including purchasing and supply chain, strategic planning, insurance and cost reporting, coding, recruitment, and compliance.

“I believe that increasing access to quality health care for Alabamians in rural areas is essential,” Reed said. “The physicians and researchers at UAB are among the best in the world, and this new center will give Alabama’s rural hospitals direct access to game-changing innovations in medicine and health care management.”

Shedd said the bill will help ensure appropriate health care is available to all Alabamians.

“This is a concept that provides benefit to all parties involved, but most of all to the residents of rural Alabama who have seen their local hospital close or be forced to cut services,” Shedd added. “This can help ensure that appropriate health care is available to all Alabamians where they live and work.”

The plan would call for the UAB Health System to add staff to provide expertise, advice and resources to hospitals that request assistance.

“As the flagship health enterprise in the state, UAB has robust systems in place in the areas where a rural hospital might have needs — areas including coding, supply chain or regulatory compliance,” weighed-in Will Ferniany, Ph.D., CEO of the UAB Health System. “We can offer our knowledge, insights, and support as a means of helping rural hospitals across the state remain viable and open.”

Ferniany says the resource center is one part of a larger effort by the UAB Health System to help stabilize small, rural hospitals and improve access to needed medical care for all residents of Alabama. That effort gained steam following a 2016 law enabling universities with medical schools to create University Health Authorities.

“Many rural hospitals are in crisis,” Ferniany explained. “The resource center is designed to help keep those nonprofit, public hospitals operational so that Alabamians can get medical care close to home when appropriate. That helps ensure that a tertiary care facility like UAB Hospital will have available resources for the situations for which we are uniquely positioned to provide care — including Level 1 trauma, transplantation, and advanced cancer care, for example.”  

Hospitals that are eligible to request assistance from the center would be located in areas that meet federal designations of rural areas or have a shortage of health care resources under federal guidelines. More than 30 public hospitals in Alabama meet those criteria.

The bill now goes to Gov. Kay Ivey for her signature, and the center will need approval from the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees.

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