Friday, January 22, 2021

Vermont hospital wins Rural Hospital Leadership Award; here's what it and runner-up in Pennsylvania are doing right

The American Hospital Association has named Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington, Vt., as the 2020 recipient of the Rural Hospital Leadership Award. The award recognizes small and rural hospital leaders who guide their hospital and community through "transformational change" on the journey to health-care reform, says an AHA press release. Winners are chosen because they display "outstanding leadership, responsiveness to their community’s health needs and demonstrate a collaborative community process that has led to measurable outcomes." 

Titusville Area Hospital in Titusville, Pa., was recognized as a runner-up for the award. With so many rural hospitals struggling, it can be valuable to see examples of those that are thriving—and why. Journalists can customize the story by comparing SVMC and Titusville to their local hospital.

Like many rural health systems, SVMC serves a disproportionately high population of seniors, many with chronic illnesses associated with aging. The hospital uses its nurses as part of a transitional care model meant to keep seniors out of the hospital, reduce readmissions, and deliver the right care in the right setting. The hospital also strengthened its partnership with OneCare Vermont, an organization that aims to lower overall health care costs while still achieving good outcomes. 

"Under the expanded model, transitional care nurses partner with primary care providers to help patients navigate the system, identifying and closing gaps in care," according to the press release. "Particular focus is given to linking with local home care agencies, skilled nursing facilities and other community care partners. Nurses spend time in multiple care settings, including medical practices and in patient homes, and communicate through a variety of approaches to help make this commitment to continuity of care a reality, including through telemedicine. The approach has helped to address many of the social determinants of health that contribute to chronic illness in rural Vermont. This includes mismanagement of medications, unsafe and unsanitary conditions at home and lack of financial resources."

The Titusville hospital, which serves a rural and mostly low-income population, worked hard to significantly reduce the amount of time patients spent in the emergency department waiting room, and in the emergency department overall. It also tried to help non-emergency patients who had transportation challenges with measures such as new clinics and community collaborations to make it easier for people to access care.

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