Earlier this month, I was privileged to attend a meeting of healthcare stakeholders covering a geographic area of more than 34,000 square miles. That is nearly the same size as the state of Maine. This meeting—the Regional Convenings to Discuss Health Care 2017 for Rural California—was held in Northern California, but it could have just as easily been held in any large rural region in our country.
The purpose of the meeting was to bring together a group of people who could focus on the state of healthcare in our rural communities today. The topic at hand was “how will the next round of changes in healthcare delivery affect us?” And more importantly, “what are we going to do about the changes?”
We all wonder about these changes, but how many of us are actually doing something to help our communities understand and prepare for change?
What I find to be important about such gatherings is they show that in our rural areas, collaboration is the key to our success. Our group was made up of physicians, hospitals, clinics, governmental entities, consumers, advocacy groups and payers. Our mission for the four hours that we spent together was to better understand how the Affordable Care Act had affected our rural communities by listening to the people who touch lives every day. We heard about the success stories and the challenges that our population is facing.
Here are some of the highlights:
- Most providers reported that under the ACA, the number of insureds in the population had increased. But they were worried about what might happen under the now-tabled American Health Care Act.
- Attendees also discussed the importance of maintaining healthcare services in rural areas and suggested creating economic impact studies of the importance of medical services in these regions.
- Finally, those at the meeting felt that legislators need to be educated, and that inviting legislators to visit our facilities is a good way to do it. We suggested that legislative representatives can be valuable key informants and collaborators in making improvements to the healthcare system.
By the end of the day, we decided that all of us in our roles as healthcare leaders are going to take responsibility to inform and educate our rural constituency groups, including patients, staff, community and even legislators and elected officials. As changes come, we will first understand how they are going to impact our small communities. Once we understand the effects, then we are going to create talking points and then communicate (communicate and continue to communicate) by use of social media, community town hall meetings, print media and employee forums.
I am very proud to be a part of a region that cares about our communities and our well-being. But we are not unique. Rural communities have always been known for taking care of each other. That is how we believe that we will succeed in an uncertain future.
Raymond Hino is an administrator at Skyway Surgery Center in Chico, California. He was previously the president and CEO of the Sonoma West Medical Center.