Rural health success story: Childress Regional Medical Center thrives in crisis

Texas has been hit hard by the rural health crisis. In the last four years, 15 of its hospitals have closed. But one small hospital in Childress, Texas, has not only managed to survive, it has figured out a way to thrive in these trying times.

The 39-bed public, nonprofit Childress Regional Medical Center is a case study in success, reports STAT. Unlike most rural hospitals, it is operating in the black, expanding services, adding telemedicine units and increasing the number of its doctors and hours at its primary care clinic.

Indeed, the publication reports that the hospital regularly boasts a positive bottom line on its annual operating budget of $28 million. And because it offers expanded services, local residents no longer have to drive two hours away to the nearest hospital. The result has meant the hospital admitted 939 patients in its most recent fiscal year, the article said, and had 5,600 visits to its emergency department and 40,000 appointments at its primary care clinic.

One reason for its success. Instead of cutting services, the hospital has expanded staffing and services. In 2013 it added an orthopedic surgeon so the facility no longer has to transfer patients 200 miles away if they need an operation. It also hired an oncologist from the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock who travels once a month to see patients at Childress, STAT reports. Specialists in urology and cardiology also come to the facility at least once a month to see patients.

Telemedicine has also allowed physicians to consult with specialists at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas about complex cases. And it recently purchased another telemedicine unit for its outpatient primary are clinic so physicians can consult with Lubbock-based cardiologists and psychiatrists.

Expanding services and adding staff is also how Putnam County Memorial Hospital in Unionville, Missouri made its financial turnaround. The hospital turned an unused 10-bed unit into a psychiatric wing and recruited specialists in specialists in anesthesiology, cardiology and gynecological services. After they added these new services, revenues climbed to $22 million, and average patient volume per day increased from fewer than one to more than 12.