Leaders from more than a dozen critical access hospitals talked about challenges and shared potential solutions at a time when health care law is changing dramatically during the Critical Access Hospital Summit at St. Patrick Hospital Thursday.
Montana critical access hospitals can face some of the challenges caused by implementing electronic health records, payment reforms and decreases in reimbursement levels by forging affiliations, said Jeff Fee, CEO at St. Pat’s.
Affiliations are appealing “because there is more safety of scale,” Fee said.
Already, regional hospitals share patients.
“So we’re naturally already working together,” he said, adding that further cooperation could help shape the way health care is delivered in the future.
Considerations for local concerns and willingness to address contentious questions before finalizing agreements must be factored into any affiliations or mergers, said Ken Burd, board chairman for the Granite County Medical Center in Philipsburg.
Small hospitals play a large role in communities’ economies and social fabric, Hurd said during a panel discussion with leaders of regional critical access hospitals during the second-annual conference.
“So my fervent hope is that no, they don’t get gobbled up,” he said, adding that he also hopes that decision making remains rooted in local concerns.
Panel member Don Lodmell serves as the board chairman for the Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital in Hamilton and said the hospital already works with St. Pat’s to offer some services.
“We agree it’s hard to stand alone,” Lodmell said.
Other challenges shared during the conversation included: educating people about the new health care reform law, recruiting doctors and health care professionals, long-term planning, and providing navigators to help patients receive care they need before they show up in the emergency department.
The challenges are many, and during a recent trip to Washington, D.C., Clark Fork Valley Hospital’s board vice chairwoman Bina Eggensperger shared some of those challenges with leaders there.
Rural lawmakers fight hard to support critical access hospitals, she said. But many people don’t care. “That’s just the reality of what it is out there.”
However, Montanans have strong wills, she said. “We’re can-do people, so we’ll figure out a way. We have to.”