Judge rejects last-ditch attempt by Cochise hospital to keep doors open

A federal judge turned down Cochise Regional Hospital’s request that Medicare be forced to continue funding hospital operations. Without those funds, which were canceled in early July, the hospital said it would have to close after July 31. (Photo by People’s Choice Hospital)

WASHINGTON – Cochise Regional Hospital’s last-ditch attempt to keep its doors open has been rejected by a federal judge, who refused to order Medicare to keep funding operations of the Douglas facility.

The hospital had said that it would have to close its doors after July 31 without those funds, and it went to court in an attempt to order the government to keep money flowing while it appealed its case.

But U.S. District Judge Cindy K. Jorgenson said in a ruling filed Thursday that the hospital had several opportunities to fix problems cited by Medicare or to challenge its decision to cut off funding, but did not do so.

“In this case, CRH has received numerous surveys and the opportunity over approximately one year to correct deficiencies,” Jorgenson wrote.

“It received a termination notice and opportunity to contest the termination, including a face-to-face meeting” with the Medicare official who made the funding decision, she said. “And, it was invited to submit an expedited appeal, which it has not done.”

A call to hospital officials for details on how the threatened closure might unfold was not immediately returned Friday.

An official with the Arizona Department of Health Services said there is a 30-day notice requirement to close a hospital, but that the department had not received that notice as of Friday.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services notified Cochise Regional on May 8 that it would stop funding operations there on July 10, after more than a year in which inspectors found problems with patient care that the hospital did not correct.

Problems cited by the agency, and in court documents, included failure to monitor some patients, lack of prescribed medications, failure to properly transport patients to other facilities and an inability to troubleshoot malfunctioning patient equipment, among other issues.

The hospital on June 11 appealed the decision to cut off funding and asked for a hearing. But in court filings, hospital officials said their efforts to arrange a meeting with Medicare officials went unanswered for weeks, until a July 8 meeting was finally arranged.

At that meeting, hospital officials said they were assured “all factors would be taken under advisement,” but that Medicare confirmed the very next day that it was proceeding with the planned July 10 cut-off of funding.

The hospital went to court on July 16, asking for a temporary restraining order to force continued funding while it pursued its administrative appeal.

It argued that the loss of Medicare funds, which account for half of the hospital’s gross revenues, would cause “extreme and irreparable” harm to the facility and the community. The 20,000 people served by the hospital would lose access to local care, they said.

The government countered that Cochise Regional had ample opportunity to fix the problems, and that it should not be given another chance.

Jorgensen agreed. She also rejected the hospital’s claim of harm to the community, noting that Copper Queen Hospital was 20 miles in Bisbee and operates a clinic in Douglas.

Cochise Regional had said, according to court documents, that if it closed, it would not be able to comply with new hospital standards in order to reopen.

“If Cochise Regional Hospital closes today, it will be closed permanently and will not reopen,” Harley Goldstein, an attorney for the hospital, said Friday.