Monday, May 05, 2014

Rural hospitals join with larger ones to stay afloat

Small, rural hospitals are struggling to stay open because of rising costs and fewer patients, and many are partnering with larger health systems for project funding or financial support. At Brooks Memorial Hospital, in Dunkirk, N.Y., about two-thirds of the 65 beds are empty because doctors can perform some procedures elsewhere, and many complicated procedures are referred to an urban facility that has access to expensive technology. As a result, "Brooks has reached out to UPMC Hamot, 50 miles away in Erid, Pa., an affiliate of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center," Henry Davis writes for The Buffalo News.

"Every one of the small, rural hospitals is talking to somebody because they have to," said Kenneth L. Oakley, chief executive officer of the Western New York Rural Area Health Education Center. For example, Mount St. Mary's Hospital in Lewiston will unite with Catholic Health so it can gain the use of administrative and corporate services as well as speciality medical services. United Memorial Medical Center in Batavia is merging with Rochester General Health System, to not only ensure the hospital's financial stability but also to provide all the necessary medical services in Genesee County. Here's a Feb. 27 report from The Batavian.

"The increasing cost and complexity of speciality care, as well as rapid changes in medicine, accelerate the trend," Davis writes. "Hospitals face more pressure from the government and insurers to coordinate care, adopt electronic medical records an accept payment based on quality and cost-control measures." Moves toward consolidation of the hospital industry began soon after Congress passed the health-reform law in 2010.

While keeping rural hospitals open is important for providing service to the community and preserving a large source of jobs in rural areas, partnering with big institutions does present some risks. In some cases, the small hospital may have to give up independence or stop being full-service. In many cases, though, the arrangement is very beneficial. For example, United Memorial Medical Center's affiliation with Rochester General—which began with a collaboration in cardiology, pathology and urology—resulted in the establishment of a cancer and infusion center in Batavia. Now citizens of Batavia have somewhere close by to go for treatment.

The larger hospitals also benefit from the partnerships, receiving patient referrals and expanding their brand names. "The path forward in health care requires collaboration," said Roger Duryea, vice president of planning and business development at Catholic Health. (Read more)

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