Hospitals help support the livelihoods of rural communities.
Hospitals are pillars of their communities and support economic development by providing education and employment opportunities that create stronger, more resilient citizens. “Our approach here at Northern Regional Hospital is to be involved in all areas of community life. We recognize, like most hospitals, that we are the largest employer in the city of Mount Airy and one of the largest in the region ,” said Chris Lumsden, President and CEO of Northern Regional Hospital. Lumsden emphasized that hospitals engage in a beneficial relationship with the surrounding community. “If the hospital is healthy, the community (members) of a community in the countryside will be healthy, and vice versa.”
Penney Burlingame Deal, President and CEO of Onslow Memorial Hospital, also touched on the relationship that hospitals share with their communities. “In rural settings, hospitals play a role in community stability,” the Burlingame Deal stated. Communities can support and sustain quality health and social services by attracting and retaining well-trained health care professionals. This can lead to a stronger economy, which in turn supports a stronger local health care system. “It’s recognizing that link between rural health care, economic strength, and overall vitality … it’s kind of this self-perpetuating feedback loop.”
John Green, President and CEO of Iredell Health System talks about how every hospital and health system is driven by a mission statement and vision, and although each one is different, they all guide people towards the most good health. More importantly, it is not always done within the four walls of the hospital. Often, hospitals work outside of their brick-and-mortar establishments — directly with the communities they serve — to accomplish their goals. “We’re doing that community-wide, and we’re doing it based on the needs of every part of that community,” Green said.
To that point, Annie Carpenter, Assistant Vice President of Community Engagement at Mission Health added, “We go beyond the walls of the hospital in our community outreach, and not just because we serve the community, but because we are the community. .”
Hospitals invest in their communities to meet the unique and diverse challenges they face.
Every community is unique, so it is important that hospitals listen to the needs of their community members when creating programs and initiatives. Patrick Woodie, President and CEO of the NC Rural Center, and the moderator of this conversation, shared a saying from his years of working in rural health, “when you see a rural community, you see you are a rural community.” It emphasizes that each community is characterized by its unique challenges, and these must be faced in their own unique ways.
Todd Hickey, Chief Strategy Officer at ECU Health talked about how ECU Health is constantly assessing how they can invest back into the community. They do this by donating funds to support community partners, developing initiatives aimed at improving health, and through other means. “We see that as the role of a good health care steward in a community, but also recognize that it’s our partnership that really connects our services to our patients, and if you want, our population,” Hickey said.
Hospitals also play a big role in strengthening the local workforce. Chris Lumsden noted that 85 percent of Northern Regional Hospital’s employees were raised and live within a 25-mile radius of the hospital. In addition, 85 percent of high school students who leave this area for work or college, do not return. “The message is, we have to develop ourselves. And that’s a theme we’re working on through our educational assistance scholarship programs,” Lumsden stated. To combat this, Northern Regional Hospital has established several programs that encourage students to not only pursue careers in health care, but also to stay and serve their community.
Hospitals in rural communities are using innovation to expand their reach and build more accessible health care.
Hospitals and health systems in rural communities are evolving with the changing health care landscape. They overcome barriers to care and expand access to care through innovative solutions, promoting a focus on maintaining good health for all.
Telehealth is blossoming as an accessible care option, but internet connectivity can be sparse in some rural communities and hospitals are developing solutions to bridge the gap. “Working with our civic partners, counties and townships, trying to build and create funding through grants, by aligning with federal funding to help expand that (broadband) is a big deal,” said Todd Hickey. Hickey linked the availability of broadband with greater opportunities for people in rural communities to get preventative care and early intervention for serious conditions.
Regarding telehealth, Penney Burlingame-Deal said, “It’s a great way to really think outside the box and use innovation to make things happen that wouldn’t happen otherwise.” In addition, John Green touched on the need for stable internet access in all rural communities and technology training, especially for the elderly population, promoting digital-based resources that will lead the future of health care.
Treatment options that combat opioid addiction are expanding and evolving as well. Annie Carpenter discusses a pilot program recently introduced at Blue Ridge Regional Hospital and Mission Hospital, where patients receive medication-assisted treatment within the emergency department, an effective evidence-based practice to interrupt the cycle of addiction. According to Carpenter, this approach to care can affect the capacity and volume of the health system while preventing the increase in opioid overdoses in the region.
“The community is working together on responses at such a rapid pace to save lives. (The pilot) It’s something our community partners want to see as well,” Carpenter said.
Launching more impactful programs that promote better health within rural communities often requires research and advocacy to facilitate the implementation of such programs. John Green mentioned in small rural hospitals, a detailed approach is needed to implement new ideas to take advantage of time and funds. It may be more difficult to find an effective solution using a trial-and-error approach. To develop new initiatives and programs, hospitals can gather successful ideas from other hospitals in areas with similar populations in communities with similar challenges, implementing what works in pilot program as a potential solution for their own community.
“I think the research that allows us to see that it works, or we believe it should work is a big difference for us,” John Green said.