By Don Nelson

Three Rivers Hospital in Brewster has suspended its cardiac rehabilitation program as of May 22 because the hospital can’t meet all the requirements for continuing to offer the service.

According to a press release from the hospital, federal guidelines require that Critical Access Hospitals such as Three Rivers must provide direct supervision for cardiac rehabilitation programs by a physician.

“Because the district hospital and medical facilities are experiencing a shortage of physicians, scheduling direct supervision has become difficult,” the press release said. “It was the [hospital] board’s decision that this closure was required to avoid non-compliance with Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Conditions of Participation.”

Vicki Orford, chair of the hospital’s board of commissioners, said the decision was not made lightly or hastily.

“The board has been reviewing the program since September of 2013,” Orford said in the press release. “CEO Bud Hufnagel and I have been working with local physicians to make the program work. The physicians have come to the conclusion they do not have enough time to supervise the program because of their own practices. This program needs to be stable, sustainable, and in the best interest of the patient and it is not at this time. As more physicians begin to practice in our district and as we look at the option of starting our own clinic, we will review the program in the future.”

Patients and physicians have been notified of the program’s closure.

Rebecca Meadows, director of community relations and marketing for the hospital, said the cardiac rehabilitation program has been losing money for some time. She said it’s not clear yet how much money the hospital will save or how many employees will be affected by the program’s suspension.

In other Three Rivers news, the board will meet Monday (May 12) in a rescheduled regular meeting to officially hire Scott Graham to replace Hufnagel as CEO. Hufnagel, who was hired three years ago to conduct a financial “turnaround” for the financially troubled hospital, announced earlier this year that he would resign at the end of April but extended his stay through May 15 to help Graham transition, Meadows said.

Graham was most recently CEO at Coulee Medical Center. Meadows said he has been meeting with hospital staff under a temporary contract.