Bridging the Great Health Divide: efforts to save rural hospitals, like Salem Memorial District Hospital, from closing

Published: Feb. 14, 2022 at 9:35 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 14, 2022 at 9:53 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - The pandemic has taken its toll on hospitals across the country especially ones in rural areas like Salem, Missouri.

Officials with the Rural Hospital Group say over the last five years about 300 hospitals in rural areas have closed. The Salem Memorial District Hospital board members have brought that company in with the objective to make sure it keeps its doors open.

“We’re known as the medical desert when you get past Salem,” said hospital board president Ray Bruno.

The hospital, just off State Highway 72, serves at least 25,000 patients.

“We cover all of Dent County. We cover the northern third of Shannon County and part of Crawford and Iron Counties. It’s not just the Salem area,” said Bruno.

A long-time staple in this rural part of Missouri, the facility also covers ambulance and life flight services.

“We have had so many changes since I first walked into these doors in 1970 when they first opened,” Board member Judy Thompson said.

“We need it bad down here. My mom is 87. She has a lot of heart problems,” said Kay Petty.

Petty’s mother relies on the care the facility provides.

“For me to get here it’s about five or six miles. It’s very convenient,” she said.

But for the past few years, the hospital has been having trouble with resources. Board members are doing what they can to keep the facility afloat. They’ve even appealed to the federal government. They even asked for help from Congress.

“(We wanted) to tell them about the needs in rural health care. We’re short on physicians. We’re short on nurses. We’re short on supplies a lot of time. We’re at the end of the supply chain,” said Bruno.

The hospital is also having financial trouble.

“We were asking our CEO for more information and was not getting what we needed as a board. We never could pinpoint one particular thing,” said Thompson.

Last week the board called in reinforcements.

“When you come in you really need to hit the ground running if they’re having a deficit every month,” said Bill May with the Rural Hospital Group.

In addition to firing the CEO, the hospital board called on the Rural Hospital Group to go over the operations with a fine-tooth comb.

“You’ve got to pay attention to the business part of what it is you’re doing; what kind of revenues do you have coming in, what kind of expenses you have, how many personnel you have, what are the trends with people leaving the community, do you have enough services. And if you don’t have enough doctors what are you doing to try and bring additional doctors on board,” he said.

Rural Hospital Group specializes in putting the tools in place to help hospitals like Salem Memorial District Hospital get back on track.

“We want to be full-time emergency care providers for heart attack, stroke, and the other emergencies that we have,” said Bruno.

Thompson said, “This hospital is like a puzzle piece. You take it out and it will always be missing. We have to have it for our town and community to survive.”

Though it’s early on in the recovery process officials are hopeful.

“Nothing that we’ve seen so far will prohibit us from growing in the future. The lights will stay on as they say,” said May.

“The first progress report on the state of the hospital is expected in 90 days.

If all goes well it could be about a year and a half before the hospital turns around. Salem Memorial District Hospital board members say they are working to secure new, and future doctors. They also hope to add more preventative care providers in the near future.

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