Following a few hiccups, the federal government finalized Alliance Healthcare System’s rural emergency hospital status, according to the hospital’s leaders. 

This makes Alliance the first in the state to receive such a designation.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) granted the hospital the special designation, aimed at increasing struggling small, rural hospitals’ financial viability, in March. Soon after, though, CMS asked hospital leadership for more information and placed the hospital’s status under review.

The issue was that the hospital was too close to Memphis, Tenn., which is about 50 miles away from Holly Springs where the hospital is based. According to the hospital’s chief operating officer and legal counsel Quentin Whitwell, CMS wanted further confirmation that the hospital was indeed rural, which is required to qualify for the designation. 

After a letter from Dr. Dan Edney, Mississippi’s state health officer, confirming the hospital’s status as such, the rural emergency hospital designation was accepted, Whitwell said. 

CMS did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

The rural emergency hospital designation was just rolled out by the federal government a few months ago. To qualify, hospitals must end inpatient services and transfer emergency room patients who need further care to larger hospitals within 24 hours. In exchange, they receive monthly stipends from the federal government and higher reimbursement rates. 

Alliance has been losing money for years, its CEO Dr. Kenneth Williams previously said.

He said the hospital’s survival was contingent on its approval as a rural emergency hospital. 

Now that their status is finalized, Alliance joins four other hospitals as the first rural emergency hospitals in the country.

As for whether it’ll ease the hospital’s financial challenges, Whitwell is hopeful.

“We expect the new designation to improve both the financial and the outpatient capabilities for citizens of Marshall County,” he said. 

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Devna Bose, a Neshoba County native, covers community health. She is a 2019 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she studied print journalism and was a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. Before joining Mississippi Today, Devna reported on education at Chalkbeat Newark and at the Post and Courier’s Education Lab, and on race and social justice at the Charlotte Observer. Her work has appeared in the Hechinger Report, the Star-Ledger and the Associated Press, and she has appeared on WNYC to discuss her reporting. Devna has been awarded for her coverage of K-12 education in the Carolinas.