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by Adam Willmann, FACHE
Published on August 27, 2018

Rural health care facilities and providers are facing increasing pressures from all directions. These pressures come in the form of financial stresses, limited staffing, resources and decreasing patient populations. Sometimes, the sheer remoteness of our beloved towns works against us. Often, our communities are facing the same pressures as the hospitals. Both health care providers and patients alike feel as though they are operating on an island and no one can hear or see their calls for help. Health care providers especially can experience a feeling of helplessness as they see their community and hospital face these challenges.

Goodall-Witcher Hospital Authority (GWHA) has faced many of these situations and continues to do so today. We have gone back to the drawing board to find new ways of addressing our challenges and creating a thriving culture. Many of the solutions we’ve found have come about by partnerships. 

Creating successful partnerships

I’m not addressing the great partnership we have with our staff and physicians, but those created outside the organization. Partnerships can build a mutual “win-win” situation by sharing resources or even creating a larger team to help develop solutions to common problems. True and successful partnerships are not just catchy sales words – they are formed by a trusting relationship that is committed to enhancing everyone within the partnership. They can consist of businesses, neighboring hospitals, state and federal associations and IT suppliers.

GWHA has benefited through partnerships. As an independent critical access hospital, it is vital for us to have a close relationship with many of the state and national associations such as the American Heart Association, the National Rural Health Association, the Texas Hospital Association and the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals. They help our leadership team stay informed of policy changes at all levels of regulatory developments, health care trends and best practices. These associations can summarize changes in laws and reimbursement practices that would be impossible to duplicate within our organization. They also give us a voice when we need attention to changes.

We found that partnerships with many of our IT suppliers also can assist with keeping up with best practices and changing trends. Cerner and the Texas Hospital Insurance Exchange have done a remarkable job at this. They share best practices from other organizations to improve our efficiency related to our bottom line, and in many cases, they have created a bridge to a close relationship with other organizations.

Finding the right partners

Changes happen quickly, and spending our time recreating the wheel is detrimental to the organization. As we were determining what organizations to leverage for partnerships, we asked: “Who do we call when faced with a new problem?” The answer to that question helped us find our true partners. We find ourselves reaching out to our partners for advice – but again, the partnership is a two-way road; when they call us, we do what we can to assist them.  

The most important partnerships a health care system or hospital can create are those with other neighboring health care facilities. I have found that these partnerships are the hardest to get started because they are usually with a competitor. Like many other critical access hospitals, we have always had partnerships with our neighboring larger hospital; this empowers us to provide patients with continuity of care. These partnerships are vital to making sure our patients get the most appropriate care in the appropriate setting within a short period of time – especially at those times when we are unable to meet the patient’s needs.

Partnering with competitors can be beneficial

Lately, we have been working closely with our smaller neighboring hospitals to keep our patients local and to reduce cost to both facilities. Our partnership with Coryell Memorial Healthcare System (CMHS) has proven to be bigger than one could ever expect. This partnership started out of the need for both hospitals to reduce cost and to continue to provide increased health care services, including specialty services. 

GWHA and CMHS’s partnership started when we both needed a general surgeon but were having difficulty recruiting because of backup coverage for each of the physicians. Neither of us could support two surgeons on our own, but together, we could recruit one and share the coverage. After the success of our shared general surgery coverage, we grew into trying to keep more of our patients local. We have expanded services by sharing specialists and other service lines.

The great test of our partnership, and what truly illustrated the success of us working together, occurred just this summer. CMHS had a tragic event and needed to evacuate their patients; with one phone call to GWHA at 2:45 p.m., they had secured a place for their inpatients to go. We worked together to get their patients into rooms, continue their required care and had their meal ordered by 5:30 p.m. If there was ever a reason to work with neighbors, here is a great example – just one of the many ways our partnerships have made GWHA better.

Partnering with the community

Our greatest partnership is with our community. Rural hospitals and providers understand this partnership better than most. Without our community, GWHA would not be around. We are the largest employer in the community, and we take that responsibility seriously and work to give back to our county. For this reason, we are very selective on all our partnerships because we want anyone we’re working with to take care of our friends, family and neighbors at the same level as we do.

Partnerships have been a key to the success of GHWA and our ability to grow during a time that has been so volatile for so many other rural facilities. Our partnership strategy has not been a silver bullet that has solved all our problems, but it has helped. The stronger the partnerships with various entities, the stronger we, as rural health care providers, can become. We are stronger together.

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