The mission of Katherine Shaw Bethea (KSB) Hospital is to restore, maintain and enhance health by providing superior care now and in the future for the 45,000 residents of our service area in Northwest Illinois. Like most rural hospitals nationwide, KSB occupies a special place in our town. We are the trusted, indispensable partner for top quality health care. KSB Hospital is one of the largest employers in the area and provides a large number of community wellness and health activities.

However, rural hospitals face many challenges. They include low patient volume, limited resources including staffing shortages, burdensome regulations, and heavy reliance on public payer programs. And those are the longstanding issues. New challenges include violence in our communities, dealing with the opioid epidemic, cyber threats, and economic and demographic shifts. 

The good news is that the AHA is an engaged and energized champion for rural health care. As the 2019 chair of the AHA’s Section for Small or Rural Hospitals, I can attest that AHA is stepping up in a big way to grapple with the issues that affect many rural hospitals. 

At this year’s AHA Rural Health Care Leadership Conference, the association released a report, Challenges Facing Rural Communities and the Roadmap to Ensure Local Access to High-quality, Affordable Care. AHA also released its 2019 Rural Advocacy Agenda – policy prescriptions that will go a long way toward addressing many of our most difficult problems. They include:

  • Updating Medicare and Medicaid payment rates to cover the real cost of care.
  • Regulatory relief from antiquated requirements that do not improve patient care.
  • Health IT that connects rural communities to necessary services and information.
  • Deflecting attacks on the 340B program, which keeps drug prices within reach for vulnerable communities.

The AHA agenda is one that rural hospitals can rally around. The presence of accessible, quality health care in the lives of rural residents is more critical than ever. The unique role of rural hospitals must be preserved, and if we work together, it will be.

David Schreiner is president and CEO of Katherine Shaw Bethea Hospital in Dixon, Ill., and current chair of the AHA's Section for Small or Rural Hospitals. 

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