"All of our staff are from small communities, or most of them, and they all know how important it is to have a health care facility in the community to take care of not only their loved ones but all of our friends, neighbors and community," she said. "They become our extended family. You get to know patients on a first-name basis. They are not just a number. They genuinely care about each patient they encounter."
The sentiment was shared by several UMC executives and managing staff as the Herald discussed how the facility was preparing for updates to the
The expansion is a way of staying competitive with urban hospitals while providing up-to-date services to patients, he said. Technological advancements have changed how hospitals do business, he said, and local, rural hospitals offer a service that, if they didn't exist, some patients would have to drive an hour to get to.
When asked what the region without rural hospitals would look like, he and his co-workers emphasized how important rural hospitals are to residents in small-town communities, adding "it would be devastating" if they disappeared.
"We have cases every day that are life-saving," he said. "It would cause a whole population that would have to travel for everything. ... As you know, traveling in
Hospitals have created dozens of jobs for rural cities and often are some of the largest employers in the surrounding area while providing services for remote areas.
UMC, which employs about 120, has a footprint that reaches at least 20 miles in all directions, sometimes farther, O'Neil said. The hospital sometimes serves Canadians who cannot get into hospitals quickly north of the border.
Access to a hospital is one reason people choose to live in a community, O'Neil said.
"It's the backbone of a community," he said, adding
"The people sometimes don't realize how important a hospital is to a community," he said. "People want to be in an area ... where they can get that immediate care because accidents happen."
Rural hospitals in
He added residents in smaller communities feel they are receiving equivalent, if not better, care from rural hospitals compared with residents who seek health care in urban areas.
"The argument is, if a rural hospital closes in
There is an array of challenges rural hospitals face, especially in the face of populations that are shifting toward urban life. O'Neil said 20 percent of the
As younger people move to bigger cities, hospitals in
In community needs assessments compiled by the
Federal reimbursements help cover expenses for hospitals, and facilities receive funds through
It's no secret hospitals in rural communities struggle financially, but hospitals in
He attributed that to a federal drug program that stretches financial resources for eligible patients,
Wyatt said his hospital is operating in the black because it has looked at ways to tighten its belt.
"We have to make sure we're operating in the black, and that's a hard thing in a small, rural community whenever people have a perception they have to drive to
Staying up to date
Despite the challenges, local hospitals have done what they can to stay up to date.
If a facility can't afford to purchase equipment, a hospital can partner with larger health care providers to bring those services to communities, as UMC and
Gibbens said there is an ongoing effort for rural hospitals to stay up to date, even if they fall behind urban hospitals' technologies.
Though it is required by the Affordable Care Act, all nonprofit hospitals in
"I think we are making steps in the right direction," he said of his hospital providing up-to-date services. "We are all shifting to value-based medicine."
He was referring to preventative practices as opposed to reactive medical services, adding hospitals, including those in rural areas, are focused on keeping their communities healthy.
"We're putting a bigger emphasis on what can we do to keep you out of the hospital," he said.
At the end of the day, staff at local hospitals do everything they can to provide outstanding services for its community members, O'Neil said, adding many nurses, doctors and staff members take the extra step for the people they know.
"You tend to go the extra mile for someone you are going to bump into on the street next week or see in church," he said.
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