Statewide, health care systems like Essentia Health and Sanford Health have been buying or striking up management contracts to run local independent hospitals. It’s a trend born of increasing financial pressures and federal technological mandates that we’ve been following at Ground Level.
With these systems gaining control of a growing slice of rural Minnesota’s health services, people are wondering what the long term impacts will be on the quality of care. The Star Tribune had an interesting piece this morning about a battle in Sandstone, where Duluth-based Essentia runs the hospital.
Apparently, locals were unhappy with Essentia’s lack of investment in the aging hospital and its plans to buy the facility. They feared Essentia would close the hospital or let it languish further. So leaders threatened to pull the company’s lease. That led Essentia to apologize and promise to work with the community to improve the hospital as well as the quality of health care.
How typical is this situation? According to Judith Neppel, executive director of the Minnesota Rural Health Association in Crookston, an advocacy group, most of these affiliations have benefitted locals.
“I’m hearing that generally the communities are satisfied,” she said, acknowledging that it’s too early to know the long term impacts. “I believe it’s helped with the recruiting and retention of important professionals, specifically primary care physicians and midlevel providers. It made access better in most of these rural communities. I don’t hear negatives.”
Neppel says just 41 percent of the state’s hospitals are independently-owned. She says her organization is conducting a survey to determine more scientifically the impacts of these growing health care systems on quality of care.