Rural Hospitals Looking to Future to Survive

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It’s been weeks since a local rural hospital closed, leaving a lot of patients with fewer options. But technology might be the lifeline for other rural hospitals in the Wiregrass.

They’re just a couple of perceptions of local, rural hospitals. But, there is no room for assumptions when it comes to Elba General. The reality is it flat lined.

Elba Chairman of Healthcare Authority Dr. Kenneth D. Strong said, ‘It is just kind of like a mudslide. It just picked up and picked up.”

That mudslide of trouble for Elba General started with two major floods in the city.

Although the hospital had been open for 40 years, its legacy couldn’t survive. Beyond the floods, businesses left dealing the city another financial blow. The result: recruiters couldn’t attract doctors.

Dr. Strong said, “We offered literally hundred of thousands of dollars and you could still not turn their heads….Without the recruiting, without the physicians, the basis for having the hospital is gone.”

And now Elba General is gone. And so are the options for thousands of patients who relied on it for care. For some, their closest hospital is now 20 miles away.

This is the fate Vernon Johnson is trying to avoid for Dale Medical Center and its patients. “We are using more and more technology in rural hospitals…telemedicine is coming along very rapidly,” he said.

Telemedicine is much more advanced and could be the lifesaver for some rural hospitals. It’s a high definition camera that allows doctors to see patients from miles away. Dale Medical is partnering with Southeast Alabama Medical Center to use telemedicine for neurology.

Johnson said, “So that if a patient shows up in the beginning stages of a stroke, which your window of treatment is so short…the appropriate care can be given under the direction of the neurologist…which will hopefully decrease the amount of recovery time and damages.”

It may not be your typical doctors visit, but in a virtual world filled with financial uncertainty, it is a way to help the smaller hospitals keep their place.

Johnson said, “It’s the future. It’s where we are headed.”

Dale Medical hopes to expand their telemedicine program in the future to include cardiology and psychiatry.

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