Durbin Announces Federal Approval of Critical Access Hospital Status for Iroquois Memorial Hospital

WATSEKA – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today joined officials from Iroquois Memorial Hospital to announce that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has approved “Critical Access Hospital” (CAH) status for the Watseka health care facility. The designation pays certain rural hospitals a higher Medicare reimbursement rate, helping to stabilize and provide a critical financial boost for hospitals like Iroquois Memorial.

“Today, we are gathering to announce the federal approval of ‘Critical Access Hospital’ status for Iroquois Memorial Hospital,” Durbin said. “This important designation is a lifeline for this hospital, and it is a recognition of the essential role that Iroquois Memorial plays in this region. This federal status means higher reimbursements from Medicare, which will help put the hospital on more stable financial footing. The staff here are dedicated to the success of this hospital and the people in their community—and this new federal approval is a pillar that will help Iroquois sustain its commitment for the future.”

“The need for a hospital in our vast geographical area could not be greater,”said Michael Tilstra, President and CEO of Iroquois Memorial Hospital.  “Critical Access Hospital status helps level the financial playing field for us to provide for the needs of the people in our communities.  We appreciate the support Senator Durbin has given to rural health, and for helping make CAH a reality for Iroquois Memorial Hospital.”

Medicare provides a higher reimbursement rate to CAHs if they offer 24/7 care, keep patients for less than 96 hours, and are located 35 miles from other hospitals, among other criteria. Durbin advocated for Medicare to update its distance definitions for primary and secondary roads. Under the new federal definitions instituted last year, Iroquois Memorial Hospital applied for CAH status and recently received approval from CMS. There are now more than 50 CAHs across rural communities in Illinois. 

Durbin’s bipartisan Rural Hospital Closure Relief Act was inspired by the unique situation at Iroquois Memorial Hospital.  The legislation would support rural hospitals by providing flexibility around the 35-mile distance requirement and enabling states to certify a hospital as a “necessary provider” in order to obtain CAH designation. Small and rural hospitals are the backbone of their communities, and often the largest employers, contributing nearly $5 billion in direct spending on payroll, goods, and services in Illinois. Yet more than 150 rural hospitals have closed nationwide in the past dozen years, and an estimated 51 percent of rural hospitals ran operating losses last year with 450 hospitals facing closure risk.

Durbin is also committed to addressing other important challenges facing rural hospitals like Iroquois Memorial, including ensuring there is an adequate pipeline of doctors, nurses, and other clinical staff to treat patients.  Durbin’s “Roadmap to Grow Illinois’ Rural Health Workforce” would create a partnership with hospitals, community health centers, medical and nursing schools, community colleges, dentists, physicians, and nurses to organize efforts and provide new funding to address health care workforce shortages and staffing crises in rural Illinois.

Iroquois Memorial Hospital opened its doors in 1916. Today, Iroquois has 425 employees and serves 75,000 patient visits across its offices. Iroquois offers a 24/7 emergency room (including for labor & delivery), nursing/home health care, and operates five community clinics in the region. Patients come from a large geographic area between Kankakee and Rantoul.