Acknowledging financial challenges with decreasing hospital volumes amid a changing health care landscape, Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital is transitioning to a new designation known as provider based rural health clinic.

The move, previously announced in September 2019, will be implemented on Jan. 1, hospital officials said in a news release Tuesday. The change will put more emphasis on outpatient services and primary care. It also will limit the number of inpatient beds to 49.

The United States Health Resources & Services Administration defines provider based rural health clinics as “those clinics owned and operated as an ‘integral part’ of a hospital, nursing home or home health agency.”

According to Joni Henderson, director of patient experience with Sentara Halifax, “The overarching goal of this program is to ensure that the care that we provide is sustainable long-term by emphasizing the importance of medical homes for patients and focusing on care in appropriate outpatient setting, and admitting only patients who are sick enough to require an inpatient stay.”

Hospital leaders have noted over the past few months, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, new care models are evolving including expanded use of virtual care.

“As healthcare and the needs of our patients continue to evolve, SHRH is taking this step in order to better position us to support increased access and delivery of care in our rural community for years to come,” said Brian Zwoyer, president of Sentara Halifax Regional Hospital.   

To meet eligibility for the program, the hospital must adhere to a specific patient flow policy and maintain 49 inpatients or less. 

Hospital officials said the composition of the beds will be determined soon and will include an intensive care unit, medical/surgical and women’s services. 

Observation beds will be available and will have no limit. 

The hospital’s current average daily census is 36 inpatients. The new 49-bed limit has been surpassed 35 times over the past year, according to the news release.

Even with the changes, Henderson said they do not anticipate employment changes or impacts to day-to-day routines.

“Bed management and integrated care management will play a crucial role in making sure they are assigning patients to the right beds efficiently and in timely manner,” the news release stated. “With the right measures in place, they can actively manage how patients flow through the hospital and meet this goal with little impact to the hospital patient volumes, as they exist today.”

In explaining some of the factors that lead to having fewer in-patients, Henderson said “home-based health care” is being emphasized more, and the goal is to “is to maintain quality care in appropriate settings and achieve good outcomes for patients at lower cost.”

The new designation — administered by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — tries to aid communities where recruiting and retaining physicians can be difficult and access to health care is limited. 

Participation also supports the retention and recruitment of physicians and advanced practice providers. 

Also, the program offers an enhanced reimbursement rate for Medicaid and Medicare patients seen in a practice setting to aid organizations in remaining financially stable.

Capital improvements will accompany this new project, officials said. The system will reevaluate its master facilities plan to improve patient flow and the patient experience emphasizing the focus on outpatient services.  

“The transformation aligns with the Sentara mission, ‘We Improve Health Every Day,’” Zwoyer said.