Thursday, April 30, 2015

Struggling rural towns need local hospitals to provide an economic pulse and create jobs

"Once home to vibrant downtowns, along with thriving local manufacturers and merchants, small towns were traditionally strongholds of the American middle class," Dionne Searcey reports for The New York Times. "In recent decades, many barely managed to hold on as young people migrated to cities, and those who stayed behind had trouble even finding work. Now, however, those towns that have been able to attract hospitals and other health care facilities have emerged as oases of economic stability across the nation’s heartland."

Nearly 50 rural hospitals have closed since 2010. "But the many successful hospitals, beyond providing an array of jobs from the bottom to the top of the economic ladder, also stimulate local spending and help attract new businesses that offer a stable of insured patients," Searcey writes.

Having a local hospital has boosted the economy in many rural towns, Searcey writes. The nonprofit 25-bed critical access hospital in Beatrice, Neb., (population 12,000) is the state's second largest employer with 512 workers. Revenue has grown from $45 million in 2004 to $100 million last year, and the number of patients has doubled since 2009. (Best Places map: Beatrice, Neb.)

One way the hospital—which six years ago ranked dead last in a patient satisfaction for Nebraska hospitals—has succeeded has been by listening to the community, Searcey writes. Thomas Sommers, the hospital’s chief executive, "disclosed the hospital’s financial information in hopes residents would feel more like stakeholders." He also hired more female doctors, added more doctors with ties to the community to cut down on turnover, began advertising that the hospital delivers babies and increased salaries in hopes of competing with larger hospitals. The hospital "now ranks above the national average in every category on Medicare’s website for comparing hospitals."

Field Memorial Community Hospital, located in one of the nation's poorest communities in Centerville, Miss.—where one-third of residents live below the poverty line—has succeeded by patterning its business plan after the success of the hospital in Beatrice, Searcey writes. "In May the hospital in the town of 1,600 plans to open a new, $21 million facility, said Chad Netterville, chief executive."

In Batesville, Ind., the No. 3 employer in the town of 6,500 is the Margaret Mary Community Hospital with 550 employees, Searcey writes. The hospital has survived by catering to the county's aging population by expanding its primary care access and rheumatology program. (Read more)

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