The many challenges facing rural healthcare facilities profoundly impact all areas of these organizations. In addition to the hardships created by geographic isolation and low patient volumes, rural health facilities are now facing threats from rising drug costs, the growing need for behavioral health services and ever-increasing regulatory burden. Additionally, rural and critical access hospitals continue to experience chronic financial struggles, critical staffing shortages and aging infrastructure.
While many of these challenges will depend wholly on improved regulatory policies and federal support to overcome, nimble rural and critical access organizations are finding ways to rise above these circumstances, evolving a unique culture built on creativity and commitment to excellence. This culture focuses on the patient above all things, requiring particular leadership competencies, and one-of-a-kind commitment to access and quality care.
Here are four critical areas in which rural healthcare and CAH leaders are using creativity and innovation to overcome obstacles:
Rural and CAH facilities face limited connectivity and limited budgets that do not allow for the purchase of cutting-edge technology. Successful executives in challenging rural environments utilize out-of-the-box thinking to ensure their patients still receive top-tier care. By encouraging their teams to look for ideas and solutions, these leaders take cues from much larger organizations utilizing innovations in telehealth and online communication to speak in real-time with international experts and teams of healthcare leaders at the nation’s best medical centers. Other critical changes, including updating EMR and standardizing processes, solve many daily challenges and help providers achieve improved patient outcomes.
Rural hospitals face the same economic challenges as more urban facilities, including meeting the full range of healthcare needs under increasing regulatory demands and changing reimbursements standards, many times with even fewer resources available. Additionally, in the rural and CAH settings, financial challenges frequently extend to the communities, as healthcare facilities are often central points of employment for the patient population. Successful leaders in these environments understand the fundamental importance of creating a culture of open communication and problem-solving. CEOs in these organizations are known for their ability to earn trust and rally their team members, using these skills to implement small changes and streamline operations to operate as effectively as possible while managing limited budgets.
For rural healthcare organizations, staffing challenges abound; recruitment to small and often remote communities can be difficult, and the local talent pool is often limited in both size and needed skill sets. To combat this two-front problem, progressive leaders in these facilities are maintaining an active presence on the front lines. While it’s critical in any organization for leadership to be visible and accessible, rural healthcare executives understand that it’s vital to the success of a small hospital or healthcare facility. These leaders create a culture of building meaningful relationships and gain an understanding of the challenges and opportunities on the front lines to develop creative recruitment strategies and to improve their retention rates for talented team members.
For any healthcare organization to be successful in today’s competitive market, there must be a deep understanding of the challenges and concerns of the patient population, but for rural and CAH facilities, this is especially true. To fully understand the communities they serve, today’s rural healthcare executives are active and visible members of the community, building relationships and partnerships at every level. They are regularly seen taking part in community events, speaking the language of the community and demonstrating their respect for community values. These leaders also recognize their responsibility to educate the patient population about healthcare options, the need for preventative care and the role the hospital can play for their families and are actively putting programming in place to do so.
While the rural healthcare and CAH leaders of today are facing these challenges head-on and fighting to keep their organizations viable, a continued concern – among others – will be growing and recruiting the future leaders to continue the charge. Looking ahead, creating comprehensive leadership succession plans and recruiting strategies is just one more challenge current creative leaders must keep front and center.
A key element for any rural healthcare/critical access organization is to have the right leadership in place and we partner with those organizations to help them navigate the challenges of the rural healthcare landscape. Read about the work we did with Meeker Memorial, and learn more about how to identify and connect with the right leaders for your organization by contacting the experts at Cejka Search here .