Oklahoma's rural hospitals work to stay open, viable

by Jaclyn Cosgrove Modified: August 15, 2014 at 2:00 pm •  Published: August 15, 2014


photo - Above: Laura Kurzendoerfer, the vice president of nursing at Great Plains Regional Medical Center, talks with Madelyn Mitchell, a 10-year-old patient. Madelyn’s mother was happy that they didn’t have to travel farther to get her the care she needed. Photo by JACLYN COSGROVE, THE OKLAHOMAN
Above: Laura Kurzendoerfer, the vice president of nursing at Great Plains Regional Medical Center, talks with Madelyn Mitchell, a 10-year-old patient. Madelyn’s mother was happy that they didn’t have to travel farther to get her the care she needed. Photo by JACLYN COSGROVE, THE OKLAHOMAN

Before the shift, the hospital had only a few of these specialists.

“If you come in our emergency room, a physician trained in emergency medicine will treat you,” Lively said. “Before, we couldn’t always say that was the case. We occasionally had that. We occasionally had family practice physicians who would moonlight in the ER, and that’s one of the areas that our community said, ‘We would like to see this in our hospital.’”

Lively also is working on how they can transfer fewer patients to Oklahoma City and instead treat them in Elk City, close to home.

Last year, the hospital took about 300 patients to Oklahoma City hospitals. This year, they’re looking to cut that in half.

Madelyn Mitchell is an example of a patient who likely would have been transferred last year.

“In the absence of that orthopedic surgeon, she would have probably gone by ambulance or helicopter to Oklahoma City because he was fearful she had compartment syndrome, which can cause the loss of the limb,” Lively said.

Challenge for older hospitals

About 100 miles northeast of Elk City, Shelly Dunham faces similar challenges.

Dunham, the CEO of Okeene Municipal Hospital, said people perceive an old hospital as not a good hospital, a challenge that many rural hospitals face. For example, Okeene hospital is in a building built in 1951.

Dunham said through an analysis, hospital leaders found that without renovations, they wouldn’t be able to remain financially viable.

“We were not going to be able to get physicians to come to our facility,” Dunham said.

“As physicians we had were retiring, we would not be able to replace them, and that’s a scary thought.”

In 2007, the hospital trust spent almost $8 million to renovate — a significant amount of money for a small hospital.

Thanks to the renovations, the hospital has a new emergency room and lab and new patient rooms, among other changes.

“If you have modern updated facilities, there’s that perception of better care,” Dunham said. “You still have some people who think the bigger place is the better place.”

by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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