Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Utah town shows community support can make a big difference in the level of rural health

We've often reported on the shortage of rural doctors and other inadequacies in rural health care, but Kirk Johnson of The New York Times has a story about one rural community providing hope and lessons. Garfield General Hospital in Panguitch, Utah, is a rarity, Johnson reports, in that its three doctors have all been there since completing their residencies and have no plans of leaving. Local ownership and support has helped the hospital survive, which Johnson describes as "sentiments that can sound very old-fashioned, if not jarring, at a time when health care has become polarized."

"The rule of thumb in small-town America is that doctors go away. End of story. Rural spots like Panguitch — population 1,500, 90 minutes to the nearest city of any size — are increasingly pressed to have doctors at all," Johnson writes. "Rarer still are physicians like Dr. Miller, 32, who grew up here, went away to study and hone his craft, then came back to practice." Miller speaks of his stay at Garfield General in terms like "forever," a sentiment common among the hospital's staff, two other doctors have been there for 10 and 15 years each.

When nonprofit Intermountain Healthcare announced it could no longer operate the hospital due to financial loses, Panguitch and Intermountain reached an agreement where the town would own the hospital, but Intermountain would continue to operate it. To finance the purchase, residents approved a sales-tax increase and formed a foundation for a hospital subsidy. Under Intermountain management, medical malpractice rates stayed low, allowing doctors to continue to provide key services like delivering babies. Three national parks within 100 miles of Panguitch also help keep the hospital stocked in the high tourist season with visitors, who are more likely to carry insurance than the general population. (Read more)

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