Thursday, March 01, 2018

As rural hospitals face choice of closure or change, key is catering to the needs of the local population, execs say

Rural hospitals are reacting to the recent report by the Bipartisan Policy Center, which said the rural health-care system needs restructuring and suggested that some critical-access hospitals be turned into emergency treatment centers or other useful facilities. Adrienne St. Clair of NPR and Kaiser Health News talked to some hospital executives in the seven upper-Midwest states that were the basis for the report.

"Darrold Bertsch, chief executive officer of Sakakawea Medical Center in Hazen, N.D., says he agrees with the idea of catering health care facilities to the population — whether it's with an outpatient clinic, urgent care center, a hospital or something else," St. Clair reports, quoting him: "If communities had a little bit more flexibility, then they could adapt a health care delivery system in their area that is more relevant to the needs that they have, rather than trying to make a hospital fit in a community where it might not be able to be supported anymore."

"Hospitals tend to be cornerstone institutions in rural communities," St. Clair notes. "For many citizens in small-town America, losing the local hospital would threaten the livelihood of the town and its people, says Patrick Roche, chief operating officer at Faith Regional Health Services based in Norfolk, Neb." He told her, "There are two things they don't want to lose. The first one is their school, the second one is their hospital."

Challenges to keeping rural hospitals open include reduced federal reimbursements, difficulty finding a qualified workforce, problems with transportation, "broadband internet accessibility and the unique characteristics of the population, according to Dr. Anand Parekh, chief medical advisor with the Bipartisan Policy Center and one of the report's authors," St. Clair reports.
"You know, you don't have to close your hospital," Parekh told her. "You can transform the hospital to meet your community needs, improve health and still continue to improve your local economy. Rural America can thrive as health care transforms." (Read more)

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