The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) released an interesting report on Rural Healthcare Access in December 2020. The report highlights a well-accepted truth that rural healthcare is struggling. Compared to urban populations that are growing, the rural population is declining. While the general economy has been improving, the employment rate in rural America has declined. Important for rural healthcare, over 100 hospitals closed between 2013 and 2020.
A month later, an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences released new research on how the pandemic has impacted rural America with a detailed report on the American West. Based on this study, we should expect rural America to continue to have issues in healthcare access and lag urban America economically. Links to the articles are embedded in this blog if you’d like to read them for yourself.
Underlying the reports are demographic facts around lower incomes, aging population and lower education levels achieved by students. It starts to feel a bit like a massive spiral in the wrong direction.
Despite these truths, there is another side of the coin.
Over the last two years, Octave Leadership Advisory Services’ strategy team has engaged with approximately 35 rural hospitals for strategic planning. We have had over 1,200 interviews with hospital board members, executives, department leaders and community leaders. We have made some key observations that influence the community hospital, which we continue to discuss with each community:
- Economic development: Who are the top employers in the community/county?
- Education system: What is the size of the local school? Is it consolidated? Is there a community college?
- Local government: Is the hospital part of a taxing district?
- Competitive landscape: How close is the regional transfer facility? What services leave the market?
We find that while the COVID-pandemic has exacerbated these areas and the economic recovery has been slower, rural healthcare is making gains. Surgery programs are reconstructed and growing. Community populations are aligning regarding the importance of a strong community hospital. Octave Leadership Advisory Services remains steadfastly committed to strengthening independent community healthcare through the alignment of community stakeholders.