A strong community hospital, like Mon Health Medical Center, protects choice and access to care.

Community hospitals—institutions vital to providing care to patients, close to home—are losing their independence at an alarming rate. Declining cost-of-care reimbursements, unfavorable regulatory policies, and sometimes predatory practices by larger health care systems are creating new kinds of pressures on community hospitals. In one study, Morgan Stanley forecasts that as many as 450 hospitals nationwide are at risk of closure and another 600 are in “weak” financial health.

Economic conditions have forced many community hospitals to merge with larger hospital systems to survive. And this trend is not necessarily good for the consumer.

A More Personal Touch
In November 2018, The New York Times reported that the trend in hospital consolidation is “forming powerful organizations that influence nearly every health care decision consumers make. The hospitals have argued that consolidation benefits consumers with cheaper prices from coordinated services and other savings. But an analysis conducted for The New York Times shows the opposite to be true in many cases. The mergers have essentially banished competition and raised prices for hospital admissions in most cases.” The Times analysis was conducted by the Nicholas C. Petris Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

A separate study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, conducted by Zack Cooper of Yale University, Stuart Craig of the University of Pennsylvania, Martin Gaynor of Carnegie Mellon, and John Van Reenen of the London School of Economics, found hospital prices are 15.3 percent higher when a hospital has no competition. “Studies like these are effectively a call to action for community hospitals,” says Mon Health System President and CEO David Goldberg. “Consumers are best served when independent community hospitals and health systems like ours—which has a tradition and history of serving patients close to home for nearly 100 years—remain independent.”

The pressures on community hospitals are real, Goldberg says. But part of the solution to remaining independent lies in stronger leadership to manage costs through strategic operational improvement plans, smart selection of primary services tailored to community needs and conditions, and cooperative and collaborative relationships with other community hospitals to better leverage purchasing and negotiating power.

Another key imperative for community hospital independence is a focus on quality of care and service. “When you walk into one of Mon Health’s hospitals or clinics, you can feel the difference compared to large, impersonal institutions,” Goldberg says. “The physicians and staff at community hospitals are neighbors you know. At Mon Health, we don’t just practice medicine, we treat people like family.”

Also, community hospitals are typically governed by a volunteer board of directors who are from the community. “These are folks who, for the most part, were born, and grew up in the community, they are part of the fabric of the community, they have a strong vested interest in doing what is right for the community.”

That’s the type of environment where quality of care flourishes, Goldberg says. “For example, Mon Health Medical Center and Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hospital are the only two hospitals in the North Central West Virginia to receive ‘A’ ratings from the Leapfrog Group, a national nonprofit organization committed to driving quality, safety, and transparency in the U.S. health system,” Goldberg says. “That is a testament to the dedication and commitment of the staff that you typically see in a community hospital setting.”

Great Care, Close to Home
The continued independence of community hospitals and healthcare systems is most importantly about ensuring that a patient’s access to the highest quality of care closest to home at the lowest cost is preserved, Goldberg says.

In addition, when community hospitals create partnerships, affiliations and even mergers with each other, they tend to hold, honor, and respect the hometown values that distinguish community hospitals from their larger counterparts.

“This is the kind of relationship Mon Health achieved with Preston Memorial Hospital in Kingwood and Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hospital in Weston,” Goldberg says. “The values, culture and importance of a hospital in its local community should never be underestimated or taken for granted. A strong and vibrant community hospital and health system ensures that patients have choices and are not forced to rely on a single provider. Patients should always have a choice in where they want to receive their care. Relationships among community hospitals help preserve these values at the local level.”

In Goldberg’s view, community hospitals can thrive by sharply focusing on the details of adapting to change and meeting the opportunities of the future with creativity and innovation. “The key is always keeping the need for choice, easy access, high-quality care, and what is best for the patient in the forefront of the strategy and the decisions we make,” he says.


Written by Jeff Cowart