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Helping Boards Help Rural Hospitals
9th May 2024 • Advancing Health • A Podcast from the AHA
00:00:00 00:05:37

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The constant strain of workforce and financial issues are proving difficult to solve for rural health care providers. In this conversation, Barbara Sowada, president of the Board of Trustees at Memorial Hospital, discusses the role board members can play in helping their hospitals and health systems navigate today’s pressing problems, and how the AHA’s resources and educational materials can provide valuable assistance.


00;00;00;28 - 00;00;27;14

Tom Haederle

Ask any hospital leader to name the biggest challenges facing their organization. And their answers are pretty much the same, regardless of size. But for rural care providers, the workforce and financial issues found everywhere are harder to solve, and they're looking to their boards of trustees for help.

00;00;27;17 - 00;00;49;21

Tom Haederle

Welcome to Advancing Health, a podcast from the American Hospital Association. I'm Tom Hedley with AJ communications. Join us for this brief but on point discussion of the role board members can play in helping their hospitals and health systems navigate today's pressing problems, and how the resources and educational materials can assist board members. In turn.

00;00;49;23 - 00;01;12;28

Sue-Ellen Wagner

I'm Sue-Ellen Wagner, vice president of trustee engagement and strategy for the American Hospital Association. I'm here at the HRA Rural Conference in Orlando, Florida, with Barbara Sowada, who's the president of the board of trustees for Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County in Rick Springs, Wyoming. Barbara, thank you for joining me today.

00;01;13;00 - 00;01;16;14

Barbara Sowada, Ph.D.

Thank you for inviting me. It's a pleasure to be here.

00;01;16;16 - 00;01;23;02

Sue-Ellen Wagner

Barbara, can you highlight the top three challenges that rural hospital boards are experiencing?

00;01;23;05 - 00;01;58;16

Barbara Sowada, Ph.D.

Obviously, workforce stability, including physician recruitment that is difficult in rural areas. The financial challenges Medicare and Medicaid do not cover the cost of care right now. And then the commercials are, what should I say, having their providing their own challenges with pre authorization and denials. The other part of with the commercials is we're just starting to experience in Wyoming narrow networks through Medicare Advantage.

00;01;58;18 - 00;02;18;00

Sue-Ellen Wagner

Thank you for citing those challenges that we've heard at the conference a lot about the financial and the workforce challenges. So given the challenges that you just talked about, rural hospitals do serve a tremendous value to their communities, and trustees represent these communities. So can you expand a little bit more on that?

00;02;18;02 - 00;02;49;06

Barbara Sowada, Ph.D.

Yeah, the challenges, as you know, the no mission, no margin or no margin, no mission. The one of the tricks anymore is to find that balance between what is affordable and what are the community's needs. One of the things that I forgot to mention, but is a challenge nationwide, is behavioral health and again, in rural areas that I don't know whether it's worse in some areas of the country.

00;02;49;06 - 00;02;57;03

Barbara Sowada, Ph.D.

Yes, it's mental health is more challenging than in the urban areas. And again, it's a dearth of resources.

00;02;57;05 - 00;03;15;00

Sue-Ellen Wagner

Absolutely. Yeah. We hear a lot about the behavioral health challenges. My colleague Rebecca Trickey spearheads the behavioral health issues for a. And we do a lot of collaboration with her. So what can a trustee services do to help boards, specifically the rural boards?

00;03;15;02 - 00;03;46;01

Barbara Sowada, Ph.D.

I think the things that you are doing right now, the continuing education, the newsletters, the you have a fabulous webinar archival board, the education is fabulous. Well, it was really fun. Today is one of the and I cannot remember her name. Employees is working with our hospital to become critical access. So your resources are widespread and greatly appreciated.

00;03;46;07 - 00;04;11;11

Sue-Ellen Wagner

Oh that's good to hear. We aim to help our members. Our website is trustees with an SGA for org. As Barbara mentioned, we do have a wealth of information, including some boardroom briefs, which are 2 or 3 pagers, which also includes some questions at board members can ask about specific issues. We do have a brief on behavioral health, so I encourage folks to listen to that.

00;04;11;14 - 00;04;25;27

Sue-Ellen Wagner

As Barbara mentioned, we do have some great recorded webinars on quality and some other issues. Anything else you want to talk about, Barbara? Maybe something at the rural conference that you learned about or heard about that could be helpful to our listeners?

00;04;25;29 - 00;05;01;19

Barbara Sowada, Ph.D.

One of the things that really delighted me and surprised me are there are several presentations on, I would say, building relationships, having more civil conversations, the need to repair community relationships, sometimes even relationships within an organization that is part of the focus of this week's conference is truly delightful, and I actually encourage you to do more of that, whether it's written or webinars or what have you, because that communication is just key.

00;05;01;22 - 00;05;11;09

Sue-Ellen Wagner

Well, for folks who weren't able to join us at the conference, hopefully they'll visit our website and utilize some of our podcast and webinars. Thank you for being with us today, Barbara.

00;05;11;11 - 00;05;15;09

Barbara Sowada, Ph.D.

Oh, thank you, Sue Ellen. This is delightful and I love the conference.

00;05;15;12 - 00;05;17;24

Sue-Ellen Wagner

Great. Thank you.

00;05;17;26 - 00;05;26;06

Tom Haederle

Thanks for listening to Advancing Health. Please subscribe and write us five stars on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.




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