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Reshaping rural health with innovative design and technology at Patterson Health Center

Estimated read time: 5 minutes

Key takeaways

  • Rural hospitals are closing at an alarming rate: over 100 closures since 2010, including 20 closures in the past year.
  • The Patterson Health Center, which has been significantly funded by the late Cerner co-founder Neal Patterson, offers a new model of rural health with an emphasis on modern infrastructure and high-quality care that’s proactive and patient-centered.
  • Technology and innovation are key to solving the complex challenges of rural health care.

Rural hospitals serve approximately one-fifth of U.S. residents – about the same population as the United Kingdom. But rather than finding strength in numbers, rural health care facilities are geographically isolated and serve residents who tend to be older, sicker and less likely to have health insurance. To make matters worse, these areas have a significant shortage of primary care physicians and specialists.

Hospitals in rural communities across the country are closing at an alarming rate. Since 2010, more than 100 rural hospitals have closed – including 20 in the past year alone. When a rural hospital closes, it can devastate the surrounding areas. A number of our CommunityWorks℠ clients walk this tightrope daily.

Creating a model for rural health: Patterson Health Center

In 2014, Cerner’s co-founder Neal Patterson committed to providing significant funding for the creation of a new critical-access hospital, clinic and health center in his home community of Harper County, Kansas. Two small hospital districts in Harper County faced financial stress, ran on tight margins and dealt with unique challenges related to access, affordability and patient engagement. Like other rural U.S. hospitals, they were built for a different era. They were too close to one another, had too many beds and needed additional resources to expand their specialty and preventative services. Neal’s vision was an advanced model of rural health that emphasized modern infrastructure and high-quality, proactive care that would also be patient-centered.

When the Patterson Health Center opened on July 22, 2019, Neal’s vision came to life. The new facility folds the previous two hospitals into a 62,500-square-foot facility that includes a 16-bed critical access hospital, a health clinic and centers for wellness, physical therapy and rehabilitation. Other modern features include a public café, telemedicine suites, a staff fitness area and green spaces for community events. Designers and architects from Kahler Slater and Gould Evans evaluated every element for maximum efficiency and flexibility.

The opening of Patterson Health Center begins to address gaps in rural care by providing the community with convenient access to high-quality, patient-centered care. Health center leadership have access to innovative service delivery models and service line enhancements seldom offered in a rural setting. It’s the only health care organization in the area to offer hydrotherapy treatment and 3-D mammography, and there are plans to expand specialty care through virtual health services.

To track patients through every step of their care, Patterson Health Center uses the CommunityWorks cloud-based deployment of our electronic health record. To create a more complete patient record that streamlines clinician workflows and improves the safety and quality of care, they will also use our cloud-based population health platform, HealtheIntent.®

Patterson Health Center innovates with a focus on community wellness, symbolized through its distinct roofline that resembles a heartbeat, tranquil wellness spaces, abundant natural light and scenic views. Even the name “Health Center,” rather than “Hospital,” reflects the attention to wellness.

The importance of overall community health is also reflected through innovative partnerships. The health center was built next to the high school so students could benefit from the services and be exposed to careers in health care. For example, students will be offered a new health-centered curriculum that features introductory health care job training programs, sports medicine classes and wellness programs to improve teenage health. Further, certified nursing assistant students will work at Patterson Health Center this coming semester. 

Although Neal died from cancer in 2017, the Patterson Family Foundation ⁠— run by his children ⁠— fulfilled his commitment to provide $35 million in funding for the new facility. For Neal and his family, it wasn’t just about writing a check for a construction project; it was an investment in a sustainable model that could make a difference in rural health in the community where he was born. The family says that Neal believed accomplishing that goal would rely as much on innovation as it does on modern facilities.

Learning together to make a meaningful difference in rural health care

One of the ways Cerner advances our knowledge is through iterative and collaborative design⁠ — learning side by side with a wide variety of health care partners and community stakeholders. Examples of our collaborations go as far back as Winona Health Online in the 2000s and, more recently, Healthy Nevada. We’re continuing this tradition by partnering with the Patterson Health Center and the local communities.

Throughout our history, Cerner has found that difficult challenges can be opportunities in disguise. Cerner and the Patterson Health Center are on the path to making a tangible difference in health care for the 20 percent of Americans who live in rural communities. It’s an honor not only to begin to realize Neal’s vision in his birthplace of Harper County but to also extend it as an example of what’s possible for rural health care in small towns nationwide.

On the farm, Neal’s father instructed his sons to always “complete one more round after sundown.” It was a message meant to push the family to accomplish more than what they thought was possible. Leaders of the Patterson Health Center have installed a sunset mural at the staff entrance to remind them of this principle. Now it’s our turn to complete one more round after sundown as we partner with them to transform the future of health care.

Cerner CommunityWorks has been delivering cloud-based EHR technology paired with managed services since 2009, empowering rural health care organizations to keep up with the ever-changing health care landscape. Learn more here.

Photo credit: Gould Evans, architect, Aaron Dougherty, photographer

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