Be Connected to Patients, Community and Each Other

Key messages heard at the 2018 Rural Health Care Conference

July 03, 2018

This year’s Rural Health Care Conference brought together more than 400 WHA members who heard these main messages from the keynote speakers: be connected to your patients, community, and each other. See through the eyes of your patient with kindness and compassion.
An Ethical Case for Excellence In Healthcare Delivery
Seeing through the eyes of the patient
Thursday kicked off with Benjamin Anderson, CEO for Kearny County Hospital in Lakin, Kansas. The Washington Post calls Lakin the 10th most remote town in the U.S., and Anderson says it’s also the most racially and ethnically diverse in Kearny County.

The mission of Anderson’s Kearny County hospital is, “enriching the lives of our families, friends and neighbors.” In sharing his thoughts about a CEO’s role in caring for patients, Anderson told a story about his newborn daughter, Naomi, who was close to death when she was 34 days old.

Naomi was admitted to Ashland Health Center with an elevated heart rate of 200+ beats per minute. As her health declined, she was med-flighted to Wichita for care closer to home. For nearly 10 hours, Anderson said he received little to no information from the pediatric cardiologist or other hospital staff in Wichita. He did not know about Naomi’s state of care until a physician friend came in and told him, “Your daughter is very sick! Her life is in danger. Were you aware of this?”

At that point, Anderson made a judgment call to move Naomi to Children’s Hospital in Colorado. Problem: it was the middle of winter, the airport runway wasn’t cleared, and the plane didn’t have the life-support equipment necessary for transport. This lesson taught him that CEOs play a crucial role in developing partnerships that help support the safety and welfare of the patient.

When the runway was finally clear, Anderson moved ahead with the transfer. He was greeted by hospital staff in Colorado who involved him in the decisions surrounding Naomi’s health care. Pediatric Cardiologist Dr. Shannon Buckvold explained what was going to be needed to help save Naomi, and stopped to ask Anderson the critical question: “Are you alright with this?”

It was the first time throughout the 15-plus hour ordeal that someone had stopped to involve Anderson in the care of his child. “Every parent of a child deserves to be involved in their plan of care,” he said. The Denver hospital created a culture where everyone sees and values their role in patient health care – from physicians to the housekeeping staff.

Anderson’s take-aways from the experience:
  • Patients / parents should be involved in making decisions. This communication makes a difference about how the patient feels about their care.
  • Every person working in a health care delivery system plays a role in saving and improving the care of the patient.
  • When a patient discharges, we should ask them, “How are you? What are your barriers to wellness?” Anderson noted that patients may have issues such as transportation to appointments, or need to choose between food or their prescriptions.
The State of Health Care in Wisconsin
The day continued with a presentation by Eric Borgerding, WHA President/ CEO, and Tim Size, Executive Director of Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative (RWHC), about the state of rural health care in our state.

In his remarks, Size noted the top issues facing rural health care including equitable Medicare/Medicaid funding, challenges with health plans and networks, and other items related to the consolidation of large payers and providers. Workforce is also a priority concern for RWHC, which is working closely with WHA and others to implement various public policy related solutions around physicians, nurses, and allied health professions. As more care is being delivered in the home by family members, RWHC continues to view engagement with family members as a key, yet underappreciated and under-resourced, pool of caregivers.

Size also discussed the importance of emphasizing what all rural and urban hospitals have in common, especially as part of the “volume to value” (V2V) transition. The V2V mantra is improving patients’ outcomes and experiences while minimizing associated costs, but it is important that in the drive for value, we do not lose track of the patient-provider connection. Size acknowledged the strong relationship between RWHC, WHA, and their respective leaders.

Jerry Worrick Honored with Lifetime Achievement Award
President and CEO of Door County Medical Center, Gerald “Jerry” Worrick, was honored with WHA’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the conference. Door County Medical Center is a critical access facility serving approximately 29,000 people from Door and Kewaunee counties year-round. That number explodes when more than 1.25 million visitors descend upon Door County every summer.

Worrick received the award in recognition of his leadership, service, and partnership with WHA in advocating for better health care for Wisconsin communities—serving a combined 45 years for WHA. He served on the WHA Board for eight years, including serving as chair in 2003. Worrick has been part of the Nominating and Awards, Council on Public Policy, the Property, Financial Solutions and Advocacy committees—and last but certainly not least, on the Council on Rural Health for 14 years.

“Jerry has been a friend to many on the WHA team, past and present, for many of his over 30 years in Wisconsin,” Borgerding said. “He is trusted and admired by his colleagues, looked up to by the many of us he has in some way influenced, impacted or mentored, whether he knew he was doing so or not. I speak not only for myself, but for my predecessor Steve Brenton and many of the WHA staff, in saying thank you, Jerry, for being at our side; we have been privileged to be by yours.”

Breakout Sessions
Thursday afternoon included a host of compelling breakout sessions—from UW-Madison professors and doctors discussing how to implement opioid prescribing guidelines to provider mental health by Dr. Christine Moutier, who recently co-anchored a CNN town hall with Anderson Cooper. There was a variety of physician, CEO and trustee topics to choose from. 

Friday Keynote Speakers Shine at Rural Health Care Conference
“I Am an Ambassador for Goodness”

That was the message from Tom Thibodeau of Viterbo University to kick of Friday morning at the 2018 Rural Health Care conference. Thibodeau’s humor and passion were clear as he discussed the Positive Power of Servant Leadership.

He noted that everything we have is predicated on the service of another individual. Thibodeau encouraged leaders to “be close enough to the work” of their employees and pay attention to the good, because you “get more of whatever you pay attention to.”
  • Experience joy, laugh with your employees. Leaders can create healthy environments for people with their words and presence.
  • Bring your employees a sense of peace and comfort. Thibodeau noted that “frenzy is a contemporary form of violence.” Instead of being distracted or anxious when talking or meeting with employees, be intentional, deliberate, and focused. And when it comes to matters of the heart, take your time.
  • Remind people how good they are. Employees want to stay – acknowledge and sincerely thank them for their service.
Five Steps to Making the Impossible Possible
Ben Nemtin, author and co-star of MTV’s The Buried Life, wrapped up the conference with his inspiring story of overcoming anxiety and depression.

Nemtin told the story of how he began a downward spiral into despair while at college. His grades began to suffer, and he was ultimately forced to drop out of school. Nemtin articulated the frustration he felt when he searched for helpful resources for teens suffering from mental health issues, especially men who are taught socially to “suck it up— be a man.”

After reading the poem The Buried Life by Matthew Arnold, which expresses frustration and sadness about the human condition and unlocking the human spirit, Nemtin and three of his friends created a bucket list of “100 things to do before you die.” For every item they accomplished, they vowed to help a stranger complete a bucket list item of their own. They called their adventures “The Buried Life” in homage to the poem that inspired the bucket list in the first place.

The group of friends had lofty goals ahead of themselves, from singing the national anthem to a packed stadium to playing basketball with the President, Nemtin noted there will always be doubters, but you have to move forward. “By doing what you love, you inspire others to do what they love,” said Nemtin. Nemtin encouraged the WHA audience to make bucket lists of their own to help identify what’s important in their lives.

From there, he laid out the five steps to making the impossible possible:
1. Write. Write down your goal – it makes the idea real and tangible, gives it a foundation to grow.
2. Share. Share your goal so someone can help you.
3. Persist. Consistency of effort creates a quality product.
4. Moonshots. Aim high – most people are afraid to aim for the moon, so “there’s more competition among mediocrity.” Go for those seemingly impossible goals – aim high and be persistent.
5. Give. Give back – help others achieve their dreams and goals.

Nemtin’s Suggested Resources Tools to begin the difficult conversations about mood, eating and neurotic disorders
Crisis Text Line: Text “home” to 741741. Teens and others can text 24/7 to receive support during an emotional crisis. All conversations are monitored and operators can deploy local resources, if needed.

This story originally appeared in the July 03, 2018 edition of WHA Newsletter