What Should Rural Hospital Boards Be Doing Now?

The challenge of the ongoing COVID-10 pandemic adds to many well-entrenched challenges that rural hospitals face, including a patient population that typically skews older and shows higher incidents of heart disease, cancer, and addiction to opioids. Compound to that the long-running shortage of nurses and doctors willing to work in rural areas, and many of these hospitals that were barely holding on might view the most recent surge of COVID-19 cases as a knockout punch.

“Rural hospitals are always struggling,” says Peter Goodspeed, vice president of executive search for HealthTechS3. “When you add the pandemic to that struggle, success becomes about staying open without getting gobbled up by a bigger system. It’s about survival.”

Due to the positive feedback following a September webinar (click to view recording) on the hospital board’s role in a crisis, Goodspeed will provide updates and overviews on what successful rural hospital boards are doing to weather the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Role of Rural Hospital’s Board in Time of Crisis: Part 2 will take place Nov. 13.

“Since the first webinar, there’s been a lot written by Deloitte and other consulting companies about what different company boards can do in this time of crisis,” he says. “So, I thought it might be good to drill down into what it all means for the boards of rural hospitals. Should they be doing anything different at this point?”

Goodspeed offers a sneak peek of his recommendations to rural hospital boards, based on his own research and experience at HealthTechS3—stay the course.

“I’ve reviewed a lot of documents, not all of them hospital-related, and some recommended that boards get more involved, in ways like expanding communication with stockholders and customers, stuff like that,” Goodspeed says. “But my takeaway, especially when it comes to rural hospital boards, is stay the course, don’t muck it up.

“As a board member, you hired the CEO to let them do their thing,” Goodspeed adds. “If you’re not happy with what they’re doing, you can replace that CEO. But there’s little to be gained from getting involved in day-to-day operations.”

One reason Goodspeed recommends rural hospital boards opt out of involvement in a system’s day-to-day operations is that there’s reason to believe the pandemic will, eventually, wane.

And while uncertainty at the highest levels of government has resulted in the likely delay of a stimulus bill until after the election, rural hospitals received significant financial relief since the pandemic shut so many businesses down last spring.

The Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations (CARES) Act, passed in March 2020, included $130 billion to health systems and providers, as well as $500 billion in loans to companies and organizations and $150 billion to state and local governments. Various other programs under the law boosted payments to providers by $100 billion and directed another $27 billion for the provision of medical tests, vaccine development and medical treatment devices.

Goodspeed also points out that telehealth has been “hugely helpful” to rural hospitals over the past eight months. Again, the CARES Act is partly responsible for this, as the law called for expanded use of telehealth services, which led to other payers following suit. Telehealth also has proven effective in caring for patients with behavioral health issues, including those living with opioid use disorder, by providing higher levels of medical professional access and privacy.

Meanwhile, the question remains: Will there be a Part III webinar?

“It depends on what happens,” Goodspeed says. “I think two webinars on this topic are enough, unless things get either much, much better or much, much worse.”

Don’t miss Goodspeed’s webinar on Nov. 13. Reserve your spot today.