US Senate News:
Source: United States Senator for Oklahoma James Lankford
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today joined Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Congressman Frank Lucas (OK-03) to introduce the Helping Account for Rural Medical Outpatient Needs in Oklahoma (HARMON) Oklahoma Act, that would ensure Harmon Memorial Hospital, a rural hospital in Hollis, OK, can remain open. This bill is the next step in a long list of efforts the members have engaged on to help prevent Harmon from closing. Congressman Lucas introduced companion legislation in the House.
“Without local hospitals, people in rural communities will be forced to travel long distances in life-or-death situations,” said Lankford. “Harmon Hospital is essential to the Oklahomans they serve in Hollis, Harmon County, and the surrounding area. After years of countless phone calls and letters pushing the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to extend Harmon Hospital’s critical access status, we finally attained a temporary extension of their status earlier this year. Our bill holds the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to their word by ensuring Harmon Hospital can maintain its critical access designation to prevent bureaucrats in Washington, DC, from forcing them to close their doors and hurt our neighbors in southwest Oklahoma.”
“Harmon Hospital in Hollis, Oklahoma needs to be able to keep its doors open to serve the community,” said Inhofe. “While the extension secured in June due to the public health emergency will give the hospital some peace of mind, the HARMON Act will solidify the hospital’s future. This will ensure the essential workers that are serving the surrounding community can continue to do their work for years to come, benefitting all the folks in the area who rely on the hospital’s services.”
“As more and more rural hospitals across the country close their doors, it’s important that we keep Oklahoma’s rural hospitals open and operational. As a critical access hospital, Harmon Memorial Hospital in Hollis, Oklahoma provides crucial care to its community and to the people who call southwest Oklahoma home,” said Lucas. “After years of back-and-forth communication with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), I was happy to hear that CMS has provided flexibility and extended the hospital’s designation as a critical access hospital. But to ensure these issues don’t arise again, Congress must pass the HARMON Oklahoma Act, ensuring Harmon Memorial Hospital can continue to provide local health care for our communities. I’m proud to join Senator Inhofe and Senator Lankford in introducing this important bill and look forward to making sure rural communities across southwest Oklahoma have access to the essential services Harmon Memorial provides.”
“Harmon Memorial Hospital is incredibly thankful to Sen. Inhofe, Sen. Lankford and Congressman Lucas for their continued work to keep our doors open,” said Steve Hartgraves, Harmon Memorial Hospital CEO. “The HARMON Oklahoma Act will allow our local healthcare professionals to continue providing valuable primary and emergency care services for people living in southwest Oklahoma as we wait for our Rural Emergency Hospital designation.”
Harmon Memorial Hospital became a Critical Access Hospital (CAH) in 2016. However, due to an administrative error, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) revoked Harmon’s CAH status in 2019.
In October 2019, following outreach from the Oklahoma delegation, CMS gave the hospital two additional years to remain as a CAH.
In March 2021, Lankford, Inhofe, and Lucas sent a letter to then-Acting CMS Administrator Liz Richter to push for Harmon Hospital to remain a critical access hospital until CMS’s new Rural Emergency Hospital (REH) designation—a new Medicare provider type for rural hospitals enacted in the FY21 omnibus—is implemented.
Lankford introduced the Rural Hospital Closure Relief Act, which supports financially vulnerable rural hospitals facing risk of closure.
In June 2021, CMS determined that the Public Health Emergency (PHE) will not count toward Harmon’s two year CAH extension, allowing Harmon to remain open as a CAH for almost 20 months after the PHE ends.
However, if Harmon loses its CAH status before it can transition to an REH, it will close. The HARMON Oklahoma Act will ensure the hospital can remain open as a CAH until it can transition to an REH.
Nine hospitals have closed in Oklahoma between 2005 and 2020—the HARMON Oklahoma Act will help prevent another closure.