As of Oct. 1, federal officials are no longer docking Owensboro Health Muhlenberg Community Hospital's Medicare reimbursements, following an audit that gave the facility good marks for controlling avoidable hospital-acquired conditions.

OHMCH recently learned it passed its inspection for the period Jan. 1, 2017 through Dec. 31, 2018.

In June, the Messenger-Inquirer reported the hospital was one of 800 nationwide receiving 1% lower Medicare reimbursements as part of a federal pay-for-performance program that ties inpatient complications, such as post-operative blood clots, falls and infections, to federal payments.

In 2014, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services launched the Hospital-Acquired Condition Reduction Program as part of the Affordable Care Act. The first reductions in reimbursements came the following year.

Since the program started, OHMCH made the HAC Reduction Program list four times. It was not penalized in 2017 and will not be this period.

"The absence of the penalty is truly a reflection that OHMCH is a safer environment for patients," said Kathy Myer, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer. "... We're very proud of the work we are doing here. Our No. 1 priority is patient safety."

At OHMCH, a 1% reduction in Medicare reimbursements equates to about $50,000 a year. Since 2015, OHMCH lost out on a total of about $200,000 in revenue, OH officials reported.

OHMCH has implemented many quality control initiatives to improve its scores.

The hospital re-evaluated its cleaning procedures and built-in redundancies, said Lincoln Dempsey, infection prevention specialist. Other measures include more staff education, administering medications to protect patients' intestinal flora and nurse-driven protocols for preventing the spread of infection.

"We do a better job of identifying patients who come into the hospital with (clostridium difficile), isolating them and treating them to keep them from infecting other patients," Dempsey said.

Clostridium difficile, commonly known as C. Diff., is a bacterium that occurs naturally in the environment and can be carried without people knowing it. If identified in the hospital, it is assumed to be a hospital-acquired condition, and federal auditors penalize the facility.

"But the biggest (initiative) is our antibiotic stewardship," Dempsey said.

Medical providers prescribe too many antibiotics across the nation, but especially in Kentucky, he said.

"That puts patients at greater risk for C. Diff. and other drug-resistant bacteria," he said.

The HAC Reduction Program presents challenges for smaller hospitals with lower patient populations, Dempsey said, because a single infection can subject a facility to a reduction in payment.

According to Kaiser Health News, many hospitals in Kentucky have been penalized under the new CMS guidelines. They include University of Kentucky Hospital, Jewish Hospital, Norton Hospital and University of Louisville Hospital.

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

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