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Celebrating the power of rural health care

Estimated read time: 5 minutes

by Mitchell Clark

Published on 11/19/2020

Every year, the third Thursday in November is celebrated as National Rural Health Day. This is a time to recognize and celebrate the nearly one in five Americans who live in rural communities, the health care organizations and providers that serve these rural populations and the community members who help make their towns healthier.

“It’s been a hard year” is a statement that rings true for most of us. For those in the health care industry, COVID-19 has posed a fair share of challenges, especially in rural health settings. While it’s important to recognize the disruption of COVID-19, and the many other concerns facing rural health (hospitals continuing to close at alarming rates, the 340B drug pricing program and broadband access to name a few), I also want to shine a light on some of the positive things that showcase the true power of rural health.

Advancing rural care through innovation and advocacy

I’m proud of the work Cerner is doing to help our clients through COVID-19 by rapidly developing tools to arm the world’s most essential workers. Throughout the crisis, there’s been a constant theme of “explosive innovation.” This has not only come in the form of new technology but in the greater availability and adoption of existing technologies.

Given the nature of the pandemic, telehealth has grown exponentially. To help support these efforts, and in conjunction with celebrating the power of rural on the 10th annual National Rural Health Day, we’re offering video visits to our CommunityWorks clients free of charge through the end of 2021.

There was also Macon Community Hospital in Lafayette, Tennessee that participated in one of the industry’s first virtual electronic health record (EHR) go-lives and Henry Community Health in New Castle, Indiana, which rapidly expedited their telehealth implementation from a three- to five-year timeline into about a one-month rollout.

We also recognize the challenges associated with switching EHRs, especially during times like these, and the financial burden health care systems are facing due to patient volume loss. It’s because of this that we created the CommunityWorks SM Foundations. This cloud-based delivery model reduces the financial barriers to switching EHRs, making it easier for organizations to shift to a provider that delivers integrated, robust technology.

Cerner is also proud to work with a number of industry associations that are driving change for rural hospitals. From the American Hospital Association and National Rural Health Association (NRHA) to the Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals, there are countless people advocating for COVID-19 relief, Medicaid expansion, maintaining the 340B drug pricing program, expanded access to broadband and other issues critical to supporting rural care.

Rising to meet the challenges of COVID-19

Throughout this pandemic, we've witnessed countless examples of communities rallying around health care heroes. To boost local business and support health care workers, Cerner and First Hand launched Feeding the Front Lines. The initiative raised over $190,000 to provide thousands of delicious meals to essential workers around our campus communities of Kansas City, Missouri and Malvern, Pennsylvania.

In Clifton, Texas, a hardware store donated a deer blind to Goodall-Witcher Healthcare, giving staff a place to decontaminant their personal protective equipment when screening patients for COVID-19.

Another show of community support came from Batesville, Indiana, where a local RV business offered Margaret Mary Health access to its motor vehicles and trailers to host spillover patients or staff not wanting, or able, to go home due to the risk of spreading the virus.

Fitzgibbon Hospital in Marshall, Missouri used UV lights gifted from a local hog producer to craft a decontamination room that allowed them to kill COVID-19 on N-95 masks and use them multiple times.

Elevating care quality

A number of Cerner clients have been honored recently for their organizational commitment and excellence in providing the best possible care and outcomes to their patients and communities.

This fall, two Kansas health systems, Clay County Medical Center and Sabetha Community Hospital, were ranked among the top 20 critical access hospitals in the country by the NRHA and Chartis Center for Rural Health.

Additionally, Carroll County Memorial Hospital in Carrollton, Missouri, Cogdell Memorial Hospital in Snyder, Texas, Rush Memorial Hospital in Rushville, Indiana, Fitzgibbon Hospital and Henry Community Health were all recognized for the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives Digital Health Most Wired.

Building a thriving rural health future

Obviously, there is still much to be done to not only save rural hospitals but help them thrive, addressing many of the topics aforementioned.

There’s a crucial need to create successful partnerships ─ whether it be collaborating with the community, especially in times like now, or joining forces with third-party companies, and even competitors, if the scenario is mutually beneficial. While that last one may seem odd on the surface, we’re all in this together – so let’s work together.

I’m inspired by a blog from Michelle Flemmings, M.D., chief medical information officer at Pagosa Springs Medical Center in Colorado. In the post, she writes, “working in health care is hard, but working at a small hospital in a rural community is even harder.” It’s for this reason that she states the importance of small hospitals being bold. While it’s not a novel concept, there’s a lot of weight to it.

We must be bold in the technology we leverage, the services we offer and the partnerships we build. We must be bold in the processes we implement, the way we engage our communities, and the way we attract and retain staff.

Be bold. Be proud. Celebrate the power of rural.

CommunityWorks brings innovative health care solutions and services beyond the highly populated metropolitan areas and into the rural and community hospital market. Learn more here.

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