Thursday, June 30, 2016

New Mexico's rural remote hospitals form network to share information and find ways to survive

Hospitals in rural remote areas in New Mexico are teaming up to survive. The New Mexico Rural Hospital Network, which had five hospital members when it founded in 2014, now has 10. The network, created to improve cooperation between hospitals, allows them to "share information, hire experts and offer advice on how to navigate an increasingly uncertain industry," J.R. Logan reports for the Taos News. Stephen Stoddard, the network’s executive director, told Logan, “All of our hospitals are the only hospital in their town, sometimes even in their whole county or beyond." (Rural Health Information Hub graphic)

"According to federal data, one-third of the state’s population lived in 'Health Professional Shortage Areas' in 2010," Logan writes. "Thirty-one of New Mexico’s 33 counties faced shortages." In poorer counties "many patients rely on government health insurance, which often doesn't cover the hospital's costs, let alone provide a profit. That situation is only expected to get worse as the state faces a $417 million Medicaid shortfall." New Mexico also ranks 37th in the 2015 America's Health Rankings, "partly due to high rates of diabetes, drug deaths and children living in poverty."

The group was created through a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, as part of the agency's $11.6 million funding in 2014 to 39 networks nationwide, Logan writes. Stoddard told Logan, "Generally, the purpose of these hospital networks is to focus on helping them thrive. But in the case of New Mexico, it’s to survive.” Some member hospitals "have entered into group purchasing agreements, lowering prices on bulk purchases for necessities like bandages and bedpans," which has helped some hospitals cost cuts by one-third. "But Stoddard says the real strength of the network is in building relationships and exchanging ideas. He told Logan, “In an urban environment, there are lots of opportunities to collaborate and share ideas. But in a rural setting, you’re often very isolated.”

The network is also "working with the University of New Mexico to draw more medical students to do rotations in rural hospitals," Logan writes. "Studies have found that attracting a medical student to a small hospital makes it easier to later hire them when they finish school. Although many of the ten hospitals have previously tried to combat retention problems on their own, the existence of the network gives these small facilities more to offer medical students, Stoddard says." (Read more)

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