by Andy Davis, CEO of Ascension Texas
The healthcare industry is experiencing a dramatic transformation. Reimbursement models are changing rapidly, and digital transformation is bringing new and dynamic competitors into the healthcare space. These changes impact the industry as a whole, but more specifically, rural healthcare providers are most impacted by the changes to traditional care delivery.
More than 100 rural hospitals have closed across the country since 2010, and 17 of those hospital shutdowns were right here in Texas – more than any other state in the country. Looking ahead, 21% of rural hospitals across the nation are at high risk of closing, according to Navigant’s analysis of CMS data.
As healthcare leaders, we are cognizant and responsive to the fact that about 10% of physicians practice in rural America while nearly 20% of the U.S. population seeks care in rural communities.
To combat the gaps in care which continue to grow for rural populations, Ascension Texas has launched telehealth and virtual care services to help maintain access to care. Ascension Texas Online Care is an online urgent care service that allows a patient to video chat with a virtual provider at any time – 24 hours a day, seven days a week – for a flat fee of only $49, no insurance necessary using a smartphone, tablet or laptop. Additionally, in 2017 Ascension Seton opened AscensionConnect in Austin, where the latest monitoring and connected health technologies are evaluated, piloted and utilized by multidisciplinary teams to provide services and deliver care within hospitals, clinics, and in the home around the clock.
Looking forward to continuing support for rural communities, Ascension Texas will open the Elgin rural health clinic later this year, which is a multi-phase medical center complex that will offer primary and after-hours care in Elgin. The 5,000 square foot medical facility is a partnership between Seton and Elgin to provide much-needed medical services and facilities to the community in a manner that is financially viable and sustainable. The new center will be licensed as a Rural Health Clinic and include lab and x-ray. Additionally, Ascension Seton is building a micro-hospital in Bastrop that is scheduled to open in November, which was thoughtfully designed to evolve along with our community’s changing needs. The medical center will include an emergency department, inpatient rooms, procedures rooms, and imaging services. Medical office space on the second floor will offer families the convenience of primary and specialty care under one roof.
Despite these approaches and innovations, many rural communities are struggling to access healthcare services; we want to continue to be a part of the solution. As we provide innovative access options and comprehensive community health locations, we can also lead the way with greater support of health profession programs to place graduates in rural areas; we are committed to connecting individuals in our local communities to high demand healthcare careers within our organization.
Additionally, partnerships with transportation companies, clinics and other health organizations will be essential to make access to care safe and convenient for patients. Ascension Texas has made significant investments in helping a unique public safety air rescue program, STAR Flight, that performs everything from the transport of critically ill patients to firefighting, rescue to law enforcement and serves Travis County and 19 other counties within the Central Texas area. The STAR Flight program responds to people experiencing medical problems such as heart attacks or strokes or suffering from traumatic injuries sustained in motor vehicle accidents or recreational activities, and regularly transports from rural hospitals patients who require a higher level or specialized care.
To continue the conversation about access healthcare in rural communities, Ascension Seton is hosting a rural healthcare forum on Wednesday, Sept. 25, from 7:30-9:30 a.m. at the Civic Center in Luling, to discuss the future of rural & community hospitals across the state. Ascension Seton leadership will be joined by John Henderson, CEO of Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals, to address topics regarding rural hospitals throughout Texas, including how they are changing, what is impacting these hospitals, and what to expect in the future. Ascension Seton leadership will also discuss legislative policies that support rural communities and the Ascension Texas strategy around rural access to care.