5 ways rural hospital leaders can take the lead to ease financial crunch

Rural hospitals are weathering a years-long crisis as they cope with reimbursement cuts and high-risk patient populations, but there are steps leaders can take to stay afloat, the CEO of a major rural hospital group said this week, according to KCUR radio in Missouri.

In urban areas, there's a widespread perception that rural healthcare's woes come down to population declines, poorer quality care and subpar management, National Rural Health Association CEO Alan Morgan told the Kansas Governor's Rural Health Working Group. The facts, however, tell a different story; a study published earlier this month, for example, indicated rural critical access hospitals provide better surgical care for Medicare patients than their urban counterparts at a lower cost.

Despite this, Morgan noted, rural healthcare's financial crunch is very real, with about 25 percent on pace to close in the next 10 years. One of the biggest challenges facing rural providers is a patient population with more complex health problems than those who live near urban facilities, according to the article. Other factors, such as federal payment cuts to rural hospitals under the Affordable Care Act and a shift toward outpatient care, have compounded the problem. To address these problems, Morgan recommends a few approaches that have the potential to offset the damage, including:

  • Recruitment programs aimed at teens in rural areas
  • Increased independent practice authorities for physician assistants and nurse practitioners
  • A bigger role for healthcare workers without medical degrees, such as community workers, patient navigators and paramedics
  • Grants to smooth the transition to newer payment models
  • Telemedicine services to bridge care gaps

Above all, Morgan said in the article, it's vital that states don't rest on their laurels hoping the federal government will develop a model for them.

To learn more:
- read the article