The healthy system’s quality and service strengths aim to help preserve healthcare choices in communities.

As market dynamics put more and more pressure on community health systems, particularly in rural areas, healthcare choice and access to quality care close to home are under threat. Within a recent and short time period, West Virginia has seen five rural hospitals close or announce closings. As a strong and vital community-focused health system based in Morgantown, Mon Health System is proud of its history in preserving its mission to help communities across north central West Virginia maintain access to care close to home in all healthcare delivery approaches.

In the past decade Mon Health System, which has community roots dating back 100 years, has created sustaining partnerships with smaller hospitals to ensure economic health and healthcare choices in communities like Elkins, Fairmont, Grafton, Jane Lew, Kingwood, and Weston, to name a few. The system’s goal is to make sure these communities do not lose their local access to care.

“Independence and sustainability are keys to the future for rural and community healthcare,” says David Goldberg, president and CEO of Mon Health System. “Mon Health is the healthcare provider of choice for most people in north central West Virginia. Our philosophy is that we don’t just practice medicine here; we treat people like family. You can feel the difference in the way we work compared to larger, more impersonal institutions. We have focused on value-based care principles like safety, service, and quality as our true north and continue to be regionally and nationally recognized for top-quality outcomes, patient experience, and our highly regarded programs like cardiovascular, minimally invasive surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, and emergency medicine care to name a few hallmarks of Mon Health care delivery.”

Meeting local health needs

While independent community healthcare choices are essential to preserve and maintain, the hospitals that provide the care closest to home are also better able to understand the community needs and tailor services and programs to those needs. “A good example is perinatal depression,” says
Goldberg. “Here at Mon Health Medical Center, we realized this was a significant issue for families in our community. So we established a program to address the need. At larger institutions, this type of dedicated program might not see the light of day because it does not meet pure revenue goals, but at Mon Health we focus on each patient individually. That’s the real difference between community and rural hospitals and why we need to keep them strong.”

The community-focused perinatal depression program at Mon Health screens expecting mothers for the disorder and provides outreach and support for families that experience postpartum depression, anxiety, and mood disorders. This dedicated program is the first of its kind in West
Virginia and one of only 13 in the nation. Mon Health Medical Center hired Jennifer Bender as its first perinatal mood and anxiety disorder nurse navigator. Bender has been a labor and delivery nurse for 17 years.

“Mon Health is a not-for-profit communityfocused enterprise, and this is a demonstration of our commitment to meet a community need versus the need to drive revenue,” says Goldberg. “This is the difference in focus for rural and community hospitals. We focus on quality, service, and safety, and have maintained highly regarded financial reserves to maintain our independence and investment opportunities to benefit the communities we serve.”

Another example, Goldberg says, is the work of community hospital foundations, like those at Mon Health Medical Center and Mon Health Preston Memorial Hospital, to raise funds for community-based healthcare needs and pursue grants that allow investment back into the community to address very specific local problems. Mon Health Preston Memorial Hospital recognized a great need for pulmonary rehabilitation in the community and obtained a grant for the Grace Anne Dorney Pulmonary Rehabilitation Center from donors including the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the Dorney-Koppel Foundation, and the WVU School of Public Health’s Caroline Haase Trust.

The center offers specialized programs consisting of exercise, education, and support for patients suffering from pulmonary diseases. The Hazel Ruby McQuain Trust supported early renovations of the Mon Health Medical Center Family Birthing Center and Conference Center, and the system’s leadership remains thankful for philanthropic support to advance its vital community-based nonprofit mission.

“The crises of our regional families involving opioids and drug abuse are widely known,” says Goldberg. “Mon Health Medical Center actively sought funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in collaboration with our own West Virginia Hospital Association, to create a program within our emergency department to identify and provide personalized coaching for those who are suffering.” Mon Health Medical Center and Mon Health Stonewall Jackson Memorial hospitals are currently two of six hospitals included in this grant across the country. The rural and community hospital system in West Virginia is an essential backbone in providing access to care in those communities throughout the state that are
the most vulnerable and need a wider level of services close to home.

Physical and economic well-being

Studies from the American Hospital Association show that, in addition to being a vital link in care for local communities, community hospitals are “often the centerpiece of economic viability in rural America by providing jobs for a community’s residents and resources for its development.” Nationwide, hospitals support more than 16 million jobs, including 5.7 million direct jobs in healthcare and 10.3 million ripple-effect jobs, the AHA calculates. For every dollar spent in local community healthcare, an additional $2.30 is generated through related business activity.

Populations served by rural hospitals—which have limited access to healthcare and other services—saw mortality rates rise 5.9 percent after a rural hospital closed, according to a 2019 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Therefore, Mon Health collaborated with Mon Health Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hospital, Mon Health Preston Memorial Hospital, and Grafton City Hospital to ensure access to care. The system has more than 40 sites of care across north central West Virginia, including Mon Health Medical Equipment and Supplies located in Fairmont, Morgantown, and Weston as well as The Village at Heritage Point, our active adult community organization, in order to be a one-stop source of healthcare needs for our community neighbors.

The AHA notes that community hospitals are “the cornerstone of health and healing in America’s communities … to improve the patient experience and population health, while reducing per capita cost of care.” The AHA says the role of the community hospital is “essential to the health and economic wellbeing of the people it serves.” Goldberg agrees.

“The growth of healthcare controlled by a single source, even if that source is highly regarded, is not the best future for citizens or communities. The consolidation of healthcare services into the hands of a single, dominant player has been shown to drive up costs of care and reduce services as well as outcomes available at the local level. Mon Health results speak for themselves.”

Getting top services into communities

Goldberg says he prefers to see solutions for local communities crafted in partnership with other community hospitals, which tend to hold the values of independence and choice in higher regard. He cites the recent affiliation
between Mon Health System and Grafton City Hospital, which was under the financial pressure smaller hospitals typically find themselves confronted with and challenged by changing regulations and reduced federal and state reimbursements.

Mon Health also collaborates where it makes sense to do so to benefit the
communities it serves. Mon Health System is collaborating on tele-stroke and inpatient neurology support with WVU Medicine so together they can provide best-in-class care at scale and manage costs to reduce the burden on patients. The health system is also partnering with Pittsburgh-based Allegheny Health Network to introduce heart failure physician services, adding to its already highly regarded cardiovascular clinic. This partnership will expand access to the best and brightest caregivers closest to home.

“When community hospitals like Grafton City Hospital can align with another community-based healthcare system like Mon Health to improve efficiencies, the biggest winners are the citizens Grafton City Hospital serves,” Goldberg notes. The affiliation agreement is focused on continuing
to have independent services and choices. It allows Grafton City Hospital to achieve operational cost efficiencies using Mon Health business support services, clinical affiliation, and purchasing power.

“With Grafton City Hospital’s main focus on enhancing patient care availability within Taylor County and surrounding areas, our affiliation enabled us to offer a cardiology specialty clinic, providing residents with improved access and convenience in their local community,” says George Boyles, Grafton City Hospital CEO. “We are now able to identify and treat
significant cardiac disease previously left undiagnosed. I, along with the employees and medical providers of Grafton City Hospital, are extremely excited to have nationally recognized heart and vascular services available at this hospital for our patients.”

Excellence recognized

In addition to business services, Mon Health leadership works directly with its partners to transfer best practices and knowledge related to the quality of healthcare. US News and World Report has recognized Mon Health Medical Center as the No. 3 hospital in West Virginia, and both Mon
Health Medical Center and Mon Health Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hospital were recognized as top patient-experience hospitals. In addition, Mon Health Preston Memorial Hospital was recently named the first accredited stroke-ready hospital in the state by The Joint Commission. Mon
Health Medical Center was the first and only hospital in West Virginia to earn an Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) Accreditation for its expertise and commitment to treating patients with AFib and, for the ninth year
in a row, received chest pain accreditation by the American College of Cardiology. This is attributed to local community-focused investments aimed to serve the community it is charged to care for.

“Cost efficiency, cost-effectiveness, quality, best practices, all of these improve when community hospitals find ways to work together to maintain independent healthcare services and choice close to home for the citizens in local communities,” says Goldberg. “West Virginia’s best future for all of its communities should include strong community hospital representation in charting that future.”

posted on May 22, 2020

written by Jeff Cowart

images courtesy of Mon Health Systems

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