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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

Eileen Murray did not want her daughter loaded into an ambulance headed for Oklahoma City. The family already had driven 45 minutes to get Madelyn to the Elk City hospital.

But an emergency medicine physician was worried Madelyn had damage that could cut off circulation in her arm.

The hospital’s orthopedic specialist was consulted and found all Madelyn had was a broken arm, suffered when the 10-year-old girl was bucked off a horse at a friend’s house.

“We were 45 minutes from the nearest anything, so we had to get in the truck and drive” to the hospital in Elk City, Murray said.

“Longest drive of my life. Every time we’d hit a bump, she’d scream and scream, but it would have been hard to explain for an ambulance to get there and wait for an ambulance.”

Madelyn’s family members were relieved to stay at a hospital near their home in Willow.

The family is among a large percentage of rural residents who stay in their community for hospital care.

Sixty percent of rural residents who were hospitalized in 2010 went to a rural hospital, rather than an urban facility, according to a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

The share of rural residents’ hospitalizations that take place in urban versus rural hospitals has been an area of interest for a number of years, and those who go to urban hospitals have been described as “bypassing” rural hospitals.

Many rural areas are medically underserved because of physician shortages, especially for specialists such as cardiologists, orthopedic doctors and neurologists.

This is true for Oklahoma, a state with 67 counties and regions that lack enough doctors to treat the population, according to the state Health Department.

Rural hospitals often are small, with a low volume of services, and have difficulty remaining financially viable under the regular hospital prospective payment system, according to the CDC study.

Corey Lively, the CEO of Great Plains Regional Medical Center in Elk City, is working to change that.

Lively started at the Elk City hospital in February. Since then, he has listened to the concerns of the community and focused on how the hospital can remain financially stable.

For example, over the past six months, Lively worked to replace all physicians who worked in the ER with board-certified emergency medical physicians, a request of community members who wanted a better quality emergency room.

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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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