When Pioneer Community Hospital of Stokes filed for bankruptcy in 2016, fear rippled throughout the Danbury, N.C., community.

Another critical access facility nearby had recently filed for bankruptcy — and closed. That hospital’s grim fate weighed heavily on the employees of Pioneer Community Hospital of Stokes and the surrounding community. 

“It was a scary time,” said Pam Tillman, administrator of the hospital now known as LifeBrite Community Hospital of Stokes.

Pioneer canceled surgeries, endured stressful calls with vendors, and, worst of all, laid off some of the medical center’s 200 employees.

“The staff and community were concerned about our survival as a hospital,” Tillman said. 

Then LifeBrite Hospital Group acquired the hospital in 2017, taking over $1.3 million in Medicare and Medicaid payment obligations and signing new leases for medical equipment, software, and supplies.

Rural hospitals are economic engines for communities

Rural hospitals provide life-saving medical care and function as the economic heart of a community, employing dozens of residents and supporting surrounding small businesses.

But they face economic and demographic challenge. Shrinking rural populations, more uninsured elderly patients, and widespread poverty hurt efforts to grow revenue and services.

That’s why acquiring a hospital in bankruptcy can feel like swimming upstream. But the investment makes sense if you can improve efficiency, grow your patient base, and help the community, LifeBrite Hospital Group CEO Christian Fletcher said.

“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 residents in these communities need,” said Fletcher.

Returning hospital to stability

LifeBrite made immediate improvements once it assumed ownership, said Tillman.

“LifeBrite allowed us to make payments to our vendors and contractors in a timely manner. This helped us establish relationships as a new entity and look forward to the future.”

“Establishing relationships with vendors and contractors following a bankruptcy filing and ownership change took time and a great deal of effort by our accounts payable clerk,” said Tillman. “I credit her with answering the phone and reaching out to vendors promptly to let them know we were going to take care of our debt. Her job is not easy, and she was definitely an unsung hero!”

The hospital also reopened its acute care unit and resumed inpatient treatment (which stalled during the bankruptcy). It also rehired some employees who had been laid off.

And the daily panic subsided. “We were able to resume some order with daily operations instead of wondering how we were going to make it through the next day or week,” Tillman said.

LifeBrite Hospital open for business!

The hospital focused on steadily rebuilding its patient volume for inpatient and swing bed programs along with replenishing its staff. 

“We are now working with new surgeons to perform surgery in our surgery center,” Tillman said. “Our new rural health clinic in Pine Hall is working to grow not only primary care business but also industrial medicine and worker’s comp business.”

“We keep working to get the message out that “WE ARE OPEN FOR BUSINESS,” she said.

Tillman says on more than one occasion since the bankruptcy filing, a former patient or a patient’s family visited the hospital just to share their gratitude.

“I have gotten hugs, tears of joy, and words of heartfelt thanks from patients or their families who say they are glad we are here and how important our hospital is to the community. A couple of patients have said they would not have survived to make it to another hospital if our doors had not been open,” she said.

Dark days and hope

Tillman acknowledges the ordeal impacted the staff, but it also strengthened bonds. 

“This has not been an experience anyone would want to go through,” she said. “The core group of managers and employees who banded together to press on through difficult days are some of the most amazing people. I am thankful to be part of this team! I would also like to thank LifeBrite for coming to Stokes County and saving the day in July, 2016! Without them, we would not be here to tell this story.”  

Atlanta-based LifeBrite Hospital Group, led by CEO Christian Fletcher, operates LifeBrite Community Hospital of EarlyLifeBrite Laboratories, and LifeBrite Community Hospital of Stokes. To learn more about LifeBrite Hospital Group, visit our homepage.

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