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Tuesday November 15, 2022

Marking National Rural Health Day: The Recovery of Lakeland Community Hospital

911 health care crisis saving rural hospital ehr

The one constant we've been privileged to observe during our over 35 years in healthcare IT is the remarkable passion, commitment, and self-sacrifice of the doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers who staff this country's rural hospitals.

On numerous occasions, and especially during the pandemic, we have watched them perform the most remarkable feats of service, often with only a fraction of the resources available to other health systems.

This culture of responsibility and community was never more evident than at Lakeland Community Hospital. As National Rural Health Day approaches, we'd like to use this post to tell the story of that culture and of the men and women who, throughout the potential closure of their town's historic hospital, worked through the holidays with the single-minded purpose of saving their patients, colleagues, and neighbors.

We'd also like to take some of the insights we've collected from partner hospitals like Lakeland, the National Rural Health Association (NRHA), as well as other healthcare organizations invested in improving the healthcare outlook for rural populations and present them as a consolidated strategy for rural providers, many of whom are contending with similar challenges.

A 911 Healthcare Crisis: Lakeland Community Hospital

When the employees of Lakeland Community Hospital heard that their facility would be closing in November of 2017, they were devastated.

The news came in early fall. During a somber meeting in the hospital's conference room, Lakeland's leadership announced that, like so many other rural providers across the country, shifting payment models and constantly evolving legislation had taken too great a toll on the hospital's bottom line.

"Tears just started rolling down my face. I was in shock," recalled Megan Welborn, Lakeland's Director of Imaging Services. "The first thing you think about . . . my family, my job . . . what are we going to do? What's the community going to do? It was just a shock."

The "Home of 911," Lakeland's closure would represent a historical loss and leave the small Alabama town of Haleyville without a hospital. The potential crisis this would create quickly galvanized Lakeland's staff, community members, rural health advocates, and local government—many of whom have spent their entire lives in Haleyville.

After hospital leadership had announced the closure, a city council meeting was called. There were more than 120 people in attendance, including state senators, legislators, and federal officials. Amid the din of competing ideas and visions for the future, a solution was born. With amazing buy-in from the citizens of Haleyville, it was decided that a one percent sales tax increase would finance the hospital and sustain its growth.

In the next two weeks, the people of Haleyville created a plan to keep the hospital open. Along with the sales tax increase, the plan also required an expansion of services, compromises with vendors as well as surrounding area hospitals, and, most importantly, a tremendous commitment from the staff.

In an unprecedented display of comradery, every hospital that had extended a job offer to Lakeland employees agreed to hold those offers for 30-days with no extra incentives.

MEDHOST pitched in by offering to take over Lakeland's central business office functions and create a process for fiscal recovery.

Thanks to the unyielding efforts of hospital staff; the community; and rural health advocates, MEDHOST, and other area hospitals, Lakeland Community Hospital remains open and serving the citizen of Haleyville to this day.

Read the complete story here.

The Problem Facing Rural Hospitals

This story isn't isolated to Lakeland. Hospitals in rural communities across the country are struggling to keep pace with changes in healthcare.

Constantly evolving legislation and shifting payment models are among rural health's top barriers. While many of the innovations propelling healthcare ahead originated in rural areas—such as dialing 9-1-1—those same facilities are now closing at alarming rates.

“Hospital closures are a crisis not just for healthcare, but for the overall well-being of the community in terms of economic impact,” summarized Beth O’Connor, NRHA president, speaking during a recent interview with Ken Misch, President of MEDHOST.

The battle to guarantee simple access to healthcare in rural America has been ongoing for over a decade. A large part of that fight centers around effectively linking clinical systems to an increasingly complex financial workflow.

According to The Chartis Group, 47 percent of the country's rural hospitals are losing money. More than ever, these providers require assistance and direction in maximizing care delivery and operations while minimizing expenses.

A Strategy Guide for Keeping the Doors Open

Streamlining the revenue cycle to meet the demands of today's business environment can be a daunting task. Regulations, inflation, rapidly evolving markets and stubborn workforce challenges only complicate attempts to improve business operations. But by teaming up with a dedicated revenue cycle management partner, your business office can access the tools and expertise needed to fix leaks and get revenue flowing again.

For years, MEDHOST has provided products and services to healthcare facilities of all types and sizes. Today, hospitals nationwide partner with MEDHOST to enhance patient care and operational excellence with our clinical and financial solutions.

Read our strategy guide for rural hospitals here.

Please contact us at or call 1.800.383.6278 to learn more about the numerous ways MEDHOST helps address difficulties in both rural and community hospital settings.

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