CHA News

Landmark Law for Critical Access Hospitals Takes Effect on Jan. 1

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What’s happening: Nov. 16 is National Rural Health Day. But in California, many rural hospitals don’t have enough physicians to serve their patients.  

What else to know: Starting in 2024, some rural hospitals — specifically, critical access hospitals — can directly employ physicians, with a goal of attracting them to smaller communities.

National Rural Health Day celebrates the dedicated efforts of health care providers, communities, and organizations devoted to a healthy rural America.  

Of California’s 64 rural hospitals, 37 are designated critical access hospitals (CAHs) – medical centers that provide health care services to underserved communities. While each is unique, they have one thing in common: to provide quality care.  

A significant challenge for rural hospitals in California is that they often cannot find the number of physicians needed to serve their communities, where many residents struggle to access health care.  

Legislation signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last month is a step forward in addressing the problem. Starting on Jan. 1, the 37 rural CAHs will be allowed to directly employ physicians. This reverses the state’s ban on the corporate practice of medicine for CAHs that prevented them from directly hiring physicians. The goal is to attract doctors to rural communities where private practice may not be viable. A seven-year pilot program found many rural hospitals successfully hired and retained physicians under this model.    

Supporters of the law, which include CHA, hope the improved recruitment and retention of physicians will help stabilize health care in rural communities.   

As rural hospitals continue to face new, daunting challenges, CHA is dedicated to providing support and resources that improve access to care, reduce staffing shortages, eliminate health inequities, and more.