Hospitals across the country received Medicare readmissions penalties with a new program CMS implemented, with fees beginning Oct. 1.

Hospitals across the country received Medicare readmissions penalties with a new program CMS implemented, with fees beginning Oct. 1.

Susan B. Allen Memorial Hospital only saw a slight penalty, totaling .15 percent of Medicare funding, less than the state average of .25 percent.

In Kansas, 53 percent of the hospitals are facing penalties this year, including Galichia Heart Hospital at .59 percent and Via Christi St. Teresa at .39 percent. A total of 2,225 hospitals will be fined nationwide.

“It is an extremely small amount of money,” said Gene Kimble, SBA director of marketing. “We don’t see it as a major issue but our concern is that we fell on the side being penalized. It causes us to continue to work.”

Kimble said SBA, as well as other hospitals, already tracked readmissions and worked to reduce them.

“It’s something all hospitals are looking toward,” Kimble said. “We’d always looked at readmissions but we never tracked it the way they are tracking it.”

CMS is looking at three criteria: heart attacks, heart failure and pneumonia in Medicare patients. The penalties apply to hospitals CMS determines to have readmission rates higher than national averages.

The readmission has to occur within 30 days of a discharge and can be to any hospital for any reason.

“It could be related to the initial diagnosis or it could be something completely different,” Kimble said.

He said the government is looking at patient satisfaction and outcomes and relating that back to reimbursement.

“It’s basically quality outcomes,” Kimble said, “saying if hospitals aren’t taking care of patients long enough so they do not need to be readmitted.”

In addition to tracking readmissions themselves, SBA had already joined Kansas Health Engagement Network, a group looking at lowering readmission rates on a state-wide basis.

SBA has several quality initiatives in place to improve patient care. Lowering readmissions is one of the focuses of the quality teams.

“It’s just part of the process,” Kimble said.

SBA also has hired a patient educator, not in relation to the report, who will work with patients prior to discharge and provide education to smooth the transition from being in the hospital to home care.

“Studies show a number of patients go home who don’t understand their discharge instructions or choose not to follow their discharge instructions,” Kimble said.

Also helping with this, the SBA Hospital Foundation provided funding to purchase communication boards which were put in all of the patient rooms to improve communication of discharge plans and education. These were just installed in the last month or two.

Then two to three years ago, the hospital staff began making follow-up, post-discharge phone calls within two to three days to see how things are going and if a patient is following the discharge plans.

“Obviously we continue to work at it and try new things to reduce the number of new readmissions we are having,” Kimble said.

SBA administrators believe fostering good communications and post-hospital care coordination are key to lowering readmission rates.