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Technology Upgrades Revive Rural Hospitals

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Christian Fletcher knows all too well the challenges facing rural hospitals.

As CEO of LifeBrite Hospital Group, Fletcher led the acquisition of two at-risk hospitals in rural Georgia and North Carolina. Both were in bankruptcy and on the verge of closure and were in desperate need of infrastructure and operational improvements. These hospitals needed critical upgrades so they could provide better patient care and attract and retain better talent.

“From an operations perspective, these improvements can mean the difference between life and death,” said Fletcher. That’s why LifeBrite Hospital Group has invested more than $300,000 in the facilities since 2017.

EMRs and rural hospitals

Innovative technology like electronic medical record (EMR) systems can transform rural health care, according to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. 

That’s why Medicare and Medicaid in 2011 launched a program providing financial incentives for health professionals and systems that adopt and demonstrate meaningful use EMR technology in patient care.

Among other things, EMRs enable remote rural hospitals to get real-time test results and input from other providers. It also allows them to coordinate with remote providers for specialized services not available locally. Finally, EMRs facilitate efficient transfers of patients, which is vital for critical access hospitals (CAH) like those operated by LifeBrite Hospital Group.

“As a critical access hospital, we are a stabilization facility,” Fletcher said. “Our job is to be a stabilizer, not a long-term acute care facility. Every time a patient is transferred to or from our facilities, it has to be documented and shared. EMRs allow us to do that more efficiently and accurately.”

Both LifeBrite Community Hospital of Early and LifeBrite Community Hospital of Stokes have swing-bed programs, or transitional care units, for patients recovering from surgery or from an injury. Often patients are transferred to these hospitals from larger nearby hospitals so they can complete rehabilitation closer to home. Each hospital has 25 acute care beds.

In the case of what is now LifeBrite Community Hospital of Stokes, the former EMR system was actually better suited for a larger acute care hospital, Fletcher said. LifeBrite replaced it with a specialized  “built-from-scratch” system that better fit the health system’s needs.

Upgrading IT systems

Like most technology, EMR systems are only as effective as the information technology infrastructure.

Outdated IT infrastructure makes hospitals more vulnerable to hackers and data breaches and can hurt patient care and service. Outdated IT can even affect communication between departments since phone systems are usually part of the  infrastructure.

“When we came into both hospitals we had to look at basic infrastructure development. These were things that had been kicked down the road,” Fletcher said. “Updating the IT infrastructure was one of the first things we did.”

Improving employee morale and retention

Investments in technological improvements improve employee satisfaction and help in efforts to attract and retain staff. Fletcher said.

“When we came into Stokes, the morale definitely improved. The hospital was in the middle of bankruptcy. We had to really stabilize the situation with employees and with the facility. We also brought in other services to help build up the business,” he said.

Uncertainty around a rural hospital affects the whole community. When a hospital closes, per capita income in its community declines by 4% and the unemployment rate rises 1.6 percentage points, according to a study published in Health Services Research.

Physicians watched to see if LifeBrite could stabilize the facilities. Now, both hospitals are adding much-needed specialists to their rosters.

“Updating and improving hospital technology is key in efficiency, patient outcomes and employee morale and retention. That’s why it’s a core focus for LifeBrite,” Fletcher said.

“We want to consistently grow and improve both the quality and offering of services at our hospitals,” said Fletcher. “We invest in technology so we can improve patient care as well as improve the billing, claims and follow-up. We have to do better for these communities.”

To learn more about LifeBrite Hospital Group, visit our homepage.

exterior of small rural hospital emergency intake

Keeping Rural Hospitals in the Community

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Rumors about the health of rural hospitals circulate in small towns all the time. The hospital isn’t going to make it. It’s going bankrupt. It’s going to close.

The rumors may not be true in every case, but they reflect a discouraging trend: A recent study found that one-fifth of rural hospitals in the United States are at a high risk of shutting down. 

The study, released earlier this year by Navigant, a consulting firm based in Chicago, says a total of 95 rural hospitals across 26 states have closed since 2010.

Rural hospitals at risk

About 20 percent of rural hospitals – a total of 430 – are at high risk of closure due to their financial situations. Their closures would affect 150,000 jobs. A range of factors contributes to the growing threat to rural hospitals including:

  • Loss of manufacturing and farming jobs in the community. These losses force residents to move to more urban areas. The ones who remain in the towns are typically very old or very young, unemployed, uninsured, and Medicaid/Medicare patients.
  • The hospital’s inability to keep up with technology. Dwindling patient numbers means less capital for improvements.
  • Talent struggles. Rural hospitals struggle to attract and retain staff to remain competitive with neighboring hospitals.

Federal healthcare cuts, particularly to Medicare, also took a heavy toll on rural hospitals. The rate of rural hospital closures increased six-fold between 2010 and 2015.  

Consider this: 77 percent of rural counties in the United States are considered “primary care health professional shortage areas.” Nine percent have no physicians, according to the National Rural Healthcare Association.

Reviving rural hospitals

LifeBrite Hospital Group recognizes the role rural hospitals play in a community and seeks to help revive threatened or closed hospitals in rural areas. 

“Not only do these hospitals provide vital healthcare, they are also key economic drivers in a community,” said CEO Christian Fletcher. “We aim to restore these facilities so they can attract new patients, increase cash flow, and help support the overall health of the community.” 

LifeBrite Hospital Group currently operates rural hospitals in its home state of Georgia and in North Carolina. It focuses on implementing innovative technology, such as electronic medical records (EMR) systems, to improve patient care as well as simplify the billing and claims processes.

Adding hospital administration expertise

It also brings its expertise in all areas of administration and patient care, including:

  • Advertising and marketing services including websites, promotional material, classes and sponsorships to the companies and facilities it manages.
  • Healthcare legal resources with decades of experience in healthcare permits and certification processes.
  • Information systems to improve patient records and billing and claims processes.
  • Access to capital needed to reopen, staff and grow previously closed hospitals.

Above all, LifeBrite brings a commitment to protecting and preserving rural hospitals and serving the members of those communities.

Pamela Tillman, administrator for LifeBrite Community Hospital of Stokes, in Danbury, N.C., says she fights the rumor mill  by visiting with community groups and government officials and staying in touch with the patients so she can tell them about the services the hospital offers. 

“There has been a rumor going around since I started that the hospital is going to close. We have never closed and have no intention of closing,” she said. 

To learn more about LifeBrite Hospital Group, visit our homepage.

Rural hospital

LifeBrite Hospital Group: Keeping Healthcare Local

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Rural hospitals play a critical role for people living in rural communities. Not only do they provide much-needed healthcare services, but they also act as economic engines, creating jobs and supporting businesses.

Unfortunately, these rural hospitals remain at high risk of closing. According to a recent study by Navigant Consulting, 21 percent or 430 hospitals across 43 states are at high risk of closing unless their financial situations improve. A total of 95 rural hospitals across 26 states have closed since 2010, according to Navigant’s report.   

When a community loses its hospital, the economic impacts are typically significant. A study published in Health Services Research found that when a rural hospital closes, per capita income falls 4 percent and the unemployment rate rises 1.6 percent.

LifeBrite Hospital Group is working to reduce those losses by acquiring previously closed or threatened facilities and then focusing on increasing cash flow and improving compliance and positive outcomes for patients.

LifeBrite Hospital Group, which currently operates rural hospitals in its home state of Georgia and in North Carolina, focuses on growing the business by adding more services and improving overall quality, said CEO Christian Fletcher. LifeBrite also implements innovative technology, such as electronic medical records (EMR) systems, which improve patient care as well as simplify the billing and claims processes.

LifeBrite Hospital Group focuses on the acquisition and rehabilitation of critical access hospitals. Critical access hospitals play a vital role in maintaining access to high-quality service health care services in rural communities. According to the American Hospital Association, critical access hospitals like LifeBrite provide care to millions of Americans living in vulnerable rural and urban communities.

In order to gain CAH designation a hospital must:

  • Be 35 miles from another hospital.
  • Have a 24-hour emergency room that operates seven days a week.
  • Have a maximum of 25 inpatient beds for acute care or swing-bed services.
  • Maintain an annual average length of stay of 96 hours or less for acute care patients.

Often these small hospitals also house or are tied to other community healthcare services such as institutional pharmacies; rural health clinics with visiting specialists and urgent care facilities; skilled nursing homes; and retirement apartments. LifeBrite is adept at managing all facets of rural healthcare, from clinics to administrative services, to acute care hospitals and long-term skilled care facilities.

When LifeBrite acquires a hospital, it brings its expertise in all areas of administration and patient care, including:

  • Advertising and marketing services including websites, promotional material, classes and sponsorships to the companies and facilities it manages.
  • Healthcare legal resources with decades of experience in healthcare permits and certification processes.
  • Information systems to improve patient records and billing and claims processes.
  • Access to capital needed to reopen, staff and grow previously closed hospitals.

Above all, LifeBrite brings a commitment to protecting and preserving rural hospitals and serving the members of those communities.

“We know how important it is to have quality healthcare in small rural communities. We want to do everything we can to ensure these hospitals thrive and continue to offer vital services that the residents in these communities need,” said Fletcher.

To learn more about LifeBrite Hospital Group, visit our homepage.