ARCO — Bureaucratic red tape is stalling the Lost Rivers Medical Clinic surgical center opening.
Lost Rivers, located in rural Arco, is designated as a Critical Access Hospital by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid because it serves a remote population.
But the U.S. Census Bureau has Arco designated as a metropolitan area. Lost Rivers is appealing the census designation.
Without the rural designation, Lost Rivers can’t continue building its surgical center because it is partnering on the project with Bingham Memorial Hospital, which is a rural critical access hospital.
Rural hospitals can only collaborate on certain types of projects, such as the surgical center which is considered a critical medical service, with other rural hospitals, Toni Lawson from the Idaho Hospital Association said.
Getting its rural designation is a matter of due diligence, so someone can’t go back and call the partnership illegitimate, Lawson said.
For Lost Rivers CEO Brad Huerta, this is absurd.
“To be called a major metropolitan area is the height of ridiculous,” Huerta said.
Lost Rivers has spent thousands in attorney fees to appeal the decision “just to get past the obvious” and get the Census Bureau to recognize Arco as a rural area, Huerta said. Construction on the surgical center has also been delayed for 6 months.
Arco is located about 70 miles from Idaho Falls and has a population of 995, according to the 2010 census. Ironically, Blackfoot, which is home to Bingham Memorial, is designated as rural even though it is 25 miles from Pocatello (population 55,000) and 29 miles from Idaho Falls (population 60,000). Blackfoot’s population is more than 12 times larger than Arco’s.
The Census Bureau is using the Office of Management and Budget July 2015 Bulletin guidelines for defining metropolitan areas, Amy Newcomb, public affairs specialist for the Census Bureau said in an email.
In the 2015 bulletin, the Office of Management and Budget lists Bonneville, Butte and Jefferson counties as a metropolitan statistical area, with Idaho Falls being the principal city.
According to Idaho, the county meets the standards for rural, Niki Forbing-Orr, public information manager at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, said.
There is just the disconnect at the federal level over whether Arco is rural.
“If you’ve ever been to Arco, you know that’s not the case (that it’s metropolitan),” Forbing-Orr said.
Huerta also reached out to Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch for their help. Crapo and Risch are aware of the problem and are working with Lost Rivers.
“Staff from Senator Crapo’s and Risch’s offices have met with Lost Rivers and are working with its representatives to find solutions that will enable them to continue serving patients. Those conversations are ongoing to find out how best the delegation can advocate for the hospital — and the Idahoans that rely on its services — at the federal-level,” the offices of Crapo and Risch said in a joint statement.
Lost Rivers’ partnership with Bingham Memorial Hospital on the center would include medical support and some surgeon staffing.
“We fully support Lost Rivers adding a new surgical center to the hospital because it will enable the citizens of Arco to have access to medical services they would not otherwise have close to home,” Matt Look, public relations and marketing manager at Bingham Memorial said. “Having these services will save them time and money not having to travel out-of-town to receive some medical services they could otherwise receive at Lost Rivers.”
Without the rural designation, Lost Rivers could lose the surgical center.
Reporter Isabella Alves can be reached at 208-542-6711 or follow her on Twitter @IsabellaAlves96.