by Martha Gose
Financial pressures to rural hospitals are neither new, nor in decline. In fact, both urban and rural hospital closures have reached a nationwide high under a spectrum of constraints and influences including health care economics, political forces and demographic trends.
Of the roughly 5,700 hospitals in the U.S., only 35 percent are located in rural areas. Uneven distribution of access to emergency care can absolutely mean life or death. With each closure of a rural hospital, critical time is lost in an emergency due to additional miles traveled to reach the closest emergency room with trained trauma staff. According to a recent U.S. News & World Report article, "...researchers at the University of North Carolina have determined that there are 640 counties across the country without quick access to an acute-care hospital – roughly 20 percent of the nation's residential areas." Recently, a tragic example of this occurred in Center, Texas, in which an 18-month-old child died from choking on a grape. Her parents were unable to reach help in time: their county hospital and emergency room had closed its doors permanently a few months before.
Conversely, Tyler County Hospital continues to demonstrate success in challenging times. The hospital has a designation Level 4 trauma care with specialization in stroke management. It employs 140 full time equivalents, while similar hospitals are laying off personnel in an effort to deal with chronic financial problems. In 2013 alone, the Tyler County Hospital Foundation funded either in part or in full, the following three projects.
1) The final payment of the Picture Archiving and Communication System was made this year. Since initial purchase and installation in 2011, the hospital's Radiology department has been able to capture digital images and transfer them directly to an off-site radiologist for interpretation, thus ensuring expedited, accurate diagnosis and subsequent care of patients.
2) Production of the award winning and civic-minded education DVD by Committee for Citizen Awareness was taped, in part, at Tyler County Hospital. The segment focuses on community wellness with a significant emphasis on obesity and diabetes care. The DVD is distributed to teachers, libraries, and colleges across the 36th Congressional District of Texas.
3) The most easily seen improvement is the new entrance of the hospital. Hospital employees and Foundation members donated funding, time, machinery, and materials to design and install the façade and plantings.
Additionally, hospital executive staff continues to work aggressively for $1.5 million in grant dollars through the Regional Healthcare Partnership. This multi-year grant improves access to primary care by adding a physician and Licensed Vocational Nurse with a focus on the care of diabetic patients. The Rural Health Clinic is expanding its hours of operation, as well. A second feature of the grant establishes a Registered Nurse as a patient advocate and develops a training program to strengthen communication skills of hospital staff, thereby improving patient experience and community outreach.
The best news is that the hospital is in good health compared to its peer group across the country. A significant and frequently unheralded fact is that Tyler County Hospital has operated at a profit for five of the last six years. The recent success of the hospital in an unfriendly business environment can be credited to strong support from our community, the cost effectiveness of hospital employees, and grants received due to senior administration efforts. Clearly, the continued support of Tyler County Hospital by individuals, organizations, and local businesses is of vital importance.
Current hospital CEO, Dr. Sandra Wright, came onto the hospital staff in May 2000 to manage home health. Shortly thereafter, in January 2001, she became hospital Administrator/CEO. Dr. Wright's unflagging efforts to weave together a strong fabric of health care cover a broad range of resources.
"I have been so richly blessed to be a part of Tyler County Hospital District. Staying profitable is a team effort from our boards, medical staff, management, department heads, employees, auxiliary, and chaplains. We take pride in our hospital, our clinic, our foundation, and our vocational school of nursing. I thank God every day for the great things He is doing at our hospital."