How a critical access hospital aims to compete with big-city providers

A hospital in rural Iowa is partnering with a Des Moines surgeon to compete with its urban counterparts, according to the Des Moines Register.

Iowa Specialty Hospital in Belmond will collaborate with Todd Eibes, M.D., formerly of Iowa Methodist Medical Center, to create Iowa Weight Loss Specialists, a new program that provides bariatric surgery, for which most Des Moines-area residents visit Iowa Methodist or Mercy Medical Center.

Although Iowa Specialty is less than a tenth the size of the Des Moines providers, Eibes told the Register the hospital's consistently high patient satisfaction scores and modernity won him over. "That's the kind of thing our patients are looking for," he told the paper. "They don't want to get lost in a huge system."

The city-owned Iowa Specialty is designated a critical access hospital (CAH), and spent about $20 million on the addition that will house Eibes' surgical suite. Although the purpose of CAHs is to ensure rural residents, rather than city-dwellers, have access to healthcare, Steve Simonin, chief executive officer of the partnership running the Belmond hospital, said attracting Des Moines customers will help safeguard the hospital's finances against potential cutbacks by the federal government.

Bariatric procedures are in high enough demand that Iowa Specialty's program is not likely to hurt urban hospitals' business, Eibes said. But consumers should be wary of seeking the procedure at a smaller provider, Betsy Imholz, special projects director for Consumers Union, told the Register, because unlike its Des Moines counterparts, Iowa Specialty does not post its infection and complication rates and medical outcomes on its website or Hospital Compare.

"Even if the doctor is experienced and has a strong safety record, the safety culture of a hospital is key to low infection, readmission and medical error rates," she said.

To raise their profiles and survive in a healthcare landscape that has them severely in need of workers, rural providers can attract competitive, innovative leaders who run their hospitals like big-city operations by looking for CEOs who are relationship- and community-oriented as well as physician-friendly, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

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