The Director of Economic Development of a small community was giving a tour to a corporate relocation executive scouting sites for a new plant that would hire 800 people.
Eight hundred jobs for a community sorely in need of an economic boost.
During an orientation tour, they turned the corner near downtown and passed a vacant building. “What was that?” the corporate executive asked. “That was the hospital,” the economic director explained, wincing at the realization that this was a big negative he wished he could have avoided.
But you can’t hide this shortcoming for long.
It wasn’t the first time he had a negative encounter with this empty building. His community had lost four other corporate relocation opportunities because they did not have a hospital.
The story of this critical economic shortfall began five years earlier when hospital board members, burdened with self-serving political agendas regarding taxes, the size of physician income guarantees, a reluctance to invest in the hospital with renovations and enhanced technology, and a medical staff which refused to support the facility, made a series of decisions that led their successors to realize that it was too late to save the facility.
They voted to give up the fight. Everyone made their rationalizations and left the scene.
Not only did the hospital closure result in the loss of more than 100 good existing jobs, it cost potential new jobs like the 800 lost in this failed attempt to recruit a new plant.
There were indirect losses as well. The school district, once a top performing public education organizations in the state, struggled to find new teachers as experienced faculty members retired. Many younger teachers refused to move to a town without a hospital.
Soon, other businesses closed. The inevitable economic decline was escalating. While it might be another 20 years for the community to become irrelevant — just another wide spot in the highway — for the few civic leaders who did try but failed to build consensus for a plan to save the hospital, the train was on the tracks. It was all over but the shouting.
The nearest remaining hospital was 45 minutes away, not an insurmountable distance for routine care but in an emergency, that distance could be life threatening.
What happened? How did this happen to a town with a once thriving hospital and community?
If you look at all the factors, it came down to the fact that the board, management, and the medical staff could not get on the same page with a plan to keep the hospital.
They were simply not prepared to fight for its success.
An aging medical staff which fought recruiting new physicians for fear of losing patients, stopped admitting patients. They did not want to work that hard any more and for vague, or irrational reasons, did not want to support a local hospitalist program. Instead they referred their patients to hospitalists at a regional medical center an hour away. The board, not wanting to create strife in the community, wavered in its support of the hospital CEO’s strategic plan, including physician recruitment, to get the hospital back on the track to financial health. Civic leaders and local business owners acted as if they did not have a dog in the hunt.
I have seen this, or similar situations, happen numerous times in my career working with community hospitals. For me this is one of the great tragedies in the evolution — actually the devolution — of essential community health resources. Leaders throw in the towel because they cannot get on the same page, or they lack the will to fight for what is best for their town.
What makes this especially tragic is that there are readily available resources — firms like ours and many others — with experienced consultants to help communities avoid this fate.
All they have to do is decide they will fight.
A Phone Call Away
Do not wait until it is too late.
We have the strategic and operational expertise to help you avoid a crippling loss for your community. We are not miracle workers, but if you want to fight for the future of your hospital, call John G. Self, managing partner, or Laura Merker, Dr.PH, RN, managing director. We want to hear your story.
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