Compared with big-city hospitals, rural hospitals — like St. James Parish Hospital — are small in size, but what we offer in regard to quality, technology and service makes a big impact on our communities. Although most rural hospitals aren’t equipped to offer a broad array of specialty services, what they do provide to patients and communities is essential. Today is National Rural Health Day and this year’s theme, “the power of rural,” couldn’t be more fitting.
Local Lifesaving Care & Remote Access
Since access to health care services is a key component to quality outcomes, rural providers play a significant role in delivering timely, effective and safe care. Rural emergency rooms are often the frontline when a quick response is vital. Rural emergency departments now can even leverage telemedicine technology to connect patients to off-site specialists. For example, a patient from our community undergoing a stroke would be brought to the nearest hospital — our rural hospital. Telemedicine can be used to instantly connect with a neurologist from a big-city hospital (through video and other cutting-edge software) who can remotely assess, diagnose and guide treatment to save that patient’s life. If our rural hospital — and many just like ours — did not exist, the nearest hospital would be nearly 20 minutes or more away for this patient and thousands more. When minutes count, rural hospitals can and do save lives.
Specialty and Primary Care Close-to-Home
Rural hospitals have the opportunity to identify the unique needs of the local community and use this knowledge to partner with urban health systems and regional medical centers to make those special services available. For example, in our River Parish community, dozens of patients must undergo weekly wound care. We partner to offer this service, which is often needed by those who are extremely sick or incapacitated. Without this service in our rural community these patients would have to travel miles and miles every single week. Rural hospitals increase local access and allow patients to focus on “getting better” rather than “getting to appointments.”
Through connectivity and collaboration rural hospitals are large enough to serve our community’s health needs, but we are also small enough to care. Countless studies indicate the value of “healing the body by healing the heart.” Statistically, rural providers typically outperform urban counterparts in the “experience of care.” Patients cared for in a rural setting are very fortunate in that their providers know them. Here, most of our patients aren’t strangers. We REALLY know them. We know their birthdays, their family members (by name); we have celebrated births and deaths and worked together on community events. It truly is a large extended family. So, when patients come to community hospitals for care, it is not surprising they are treated with a little extra TLC, which helps to heal their minds, bodies and souls.
Increasing access to quality, compassionate care is the No. 1 goal of many rural hospitals, but rural hospitals care for their communities as well as their patients. Many rural hospitals are often economic engines in the small areas they serve. Many times the hospital represents one of the largest employers in a rural community and plays a significant role in attracting businesses and industry to further spur economic development.
In closing, rural hospitals have the unique capacity to provide patients with the “best of both worlds.” Rural hospitals are large enough to offer top technology and small enough to talk you through your tests. They are large enough to attract a wide range of specialists, but small enough to offer same-day appointments. They are large enough to compete nationally in regard to quality, but small enough to know your name. Proud to serve our communities, rural hospitals are “Large enough to serve, Small enough to care.”
MaryEllen Pratt is CEO of St. James Parish Hospital in Lutcher, La., and chair of the American Hospital Association’s Small or Rural Governing Council.