Rural and independent hospitals have some distinct issues compared to other healthcare providers in the U.S. And with more distance between the geographic areas these leaders serve, it can be harder to have face-to-face conversations about tackling them. That’s why forums like the AHA Rural Healthcare Conference are so valuable to the rural healthcare community. Witt/Kieffer consultant Beth Nelson is attending this year’s event and has already gotten the discussion rolling with her recent article in Hospitals & Health Networks, “Rural and Independent Hospitals: Going it Alone or Teaming Up?,” in which she discusses the hard choices independent hospitals will have to make when it comes to potential mergers and other alliances.
For the article, Nelson interviewed several rural health CEOs and mission was a central concern; “When independent hospitals join larger systems, the mission to the local community first and foremost goes away,” says Tim Putnam, president and CEO of Margaret Mary Health, a critical access hospital in Batesville, Indiana. “The new system’s mission may be admirable,” Nelson writes, paraphrasing Putnam, “but it portends a potential loss of voice for the community’s core needs.”
The following are some other fundamental topics Nelson is thinking about and looking forward to hearing discussed at the Rural Healthcare Conference:
- Changing from volume to value: How can rural healthcare transform itself to remain a critical part of the social, economic, and community fabric of rural America? What’s the process of transitioning to healthcare’s “second curve,” meaning the shift from a volume focus to value focus?
- Strategic affiliations: Strategic affiliations can enhance care coordination and clinical integration and make rural hospitals more relevant. How does a leader proactively negotiate affiliations?
- Moving beyond being merely a referral source for other, sometimes distant facilities: How can a rural hospital become a sustainable, independent, rural regional medical center?
- Designing and implementing the rural health system of the future: Technology could be the greatest asset for rural community healthcare. What steps can be taken to integrate advancements and tailor them to local patient and physician needs?
- Providing much-needed support to rural communities: How can we create financial independence when rural economies fluctuate? Rural economies are often vulnerable or even precarious in comparison to economies in growing cities. The rural health population is trending toward older residents, while jobs and talent are often leaving. Senior living care is a key component to healthcare, especially in small towns and rural areas where many baby boomers prefer to retire.
- Focusing on finances: What are strategies and solutions for preserving hospital services in rural communities?
- Collaborating for success in rural communities: How do communities and rural health leaders work together on all of this?
Every rural healthcare leader faces these issues in one way or another. Stay tuned for more updates on rural health leadership and recruiting leaders to rural hospitals.
By Brianna Scharfenberg, Communications Assistant