Overcoming Challenges in Rural Healthcare Today

In Colorado, the cost of health insurance is a very hot topic right now.  It has been determined that health insurance premiums on the Western Slope of Colorado are some of the highest in the country.  Colorado’s Governor, Jared Polis has pledged to address this issue and work to drive down healthcare cost to the residents of Colorado.

As CEO of Southwest Health System, this is a goal I fully support and is consistent with what we have been working toward as an organization.  Over the past year, we have looked at every department to see where we can become more efficient and provide the same or better quality of care to our patients and provide those services at costs that more closely match what we will be paid for those services.  My concern as a healthcare leader at Southwest Health System is that whatever decisions are made to address the rising costs of healthcare, fully considers the unique nature of providing services in a rural setting.

It is very challenging as a healthcare provider to successfully operate in today’s environment especially in a rural community.  We face the same challenges as large urban providers in keeping up with the demands caused by increased regulatory requirements, but must do so with considerably less resources.  In addition, the highly specialized nature of what we do as well as the smaller pool of individuals in rural areas to fill those specialties often requires recruiting these from outside the area or contracting for these services at a considerably higher cost.

We also have to balance the needs of our community with the resources available to provide for those needs. At SHS, we strive to provide the services locally the community wants and needs.  Below are a few examples of many services SHS provides that you may not typically see in a smaller community:

  • State-of-the-Art Radiology / Diagnostic Imaging offering services that meet or exceed those offered at larger surrounding facilities.
  • We are the only facility within 7 hours of Cortez, CO that provides Barrx™ Radio Frequency Ablation treatment for Barrett’s Esophagus, which can lead to esophageal cancer. Kevin Matteson is trained in RFA procedures at SHS.
  • SHS stands out as a Critical Access Hospital that offers full-service prenatal, obstetrics, L&D, post-partum, and family care, while 45% of rural US counties have no hospital obstetric services at all.
  • A retail pharmacy in our Medical Office building for convenient access to get your prescriptions filled while visiting your physician.

We have been fortunate as an organization to be able to provide the level of services we are providing to the community and will continue to do so.  We also pledge to continue our efforts to be a high quality, low cost provider so we are part of the solution to controlling rising healthcare costs.

Tony Sudduth, CPA, FACHE, FHFMA
Chief Executive Officer at Southwest Health System, Inc.