CORH BLOG: Stronger Together

By Melissa Lackey and Caroline Billings, October 2021

Now more than ever, building and leaning on solid relationships is imperative for the success and safety of our communities. As the Delta variant of COVID-19 began to surge, hospitals faced renewed challenges of protecting their communities, such as workforce shortages and sharp increases in hospitalizations. At the Center for Optimizing Rural Health (CORH), we have had the privilege to work closely with rural hospitals that have lent out a helping hand to other struggling rural healthcare facilities and communities during this crisis.

Building Strong Partnerships

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic, rural hospitals across the United States have been overwhelmed with pre-existing issues exacerbated by the Pandemic. As a result, these critical healthcare facilities have had to stretch thin their expertise and capacities to care for high volumes of critically ill patients. Some rural hospitals have partnered with their communities to help show appreciation to their healthcare professionals. For example, one of CORH’s hospital participants, Titus Regional Medical Center in Texas, has partnered with their local businesses to periodically provide treats for hospital staff, such as snow cones. The outpouring of appreciation to the hospital illustrates a community that understands the extreme challenges their local healthcare workers face during the Delta Surge.

Protecting Your Community

Rural hospitals provide most of the care and healthcare services within their communities, implying the necessity of their contributions to the community’s overall welfare. Another participating CORH hospital, Boone Memorial Hospital, in West Virginia, has distributed masks made by their hospital Auxiliary and local churches, civic groups, and organizations to community members and hospital staff in need. Boone Memorial Hospital staff and volunteers have placed mask collection bins at facility entrances and other locations around their community. They have also implemented a volunteer program that picks up mask donations and distributes them to those who contact the hospital campus.

Highlights from the National Rural Health Association (NRHA) Critical Access Hospital Conference

Takeaway 1: Staffing struggles are just getting started. The challenge of workforce shortages is a “long-haul” situation that must be addressed with creative solutions. By asking your employees what they think can help with staffing shortages, you allow them to help find the solution to a problem that significantly affects them. Those most heavily affected by this workforce shortage can be the most effective at creating creative solutions to remedy the issue.

Takeaway 2: Active staff engagement can help with employee retention. Employees are more likely to stay with your healthcare facility when they feel their supervisor has a genuine interest in them and their professional growth. In addition, CORH offers online written resources discussing how to mitigate burnout and the importance of optimizing the relationship between hospital staff and leadership.

Takeaway 3: One of the most culture-changing behaviors a leader can exemplify is transparency. Whether the trouble is with finances, schedules, promotions, performance expectations, or existing systems that are not working, hospital leadership should not downplay difficult situations. If your goal as hospital leadership is for your employees to be part of the solution, they must know the entirety of the problem. Being proactive in sharing concerns, limiting the conversation to facts, keeping your promises, not pointing fingers, paying attention to the mood in your hospital or organization, and allowing yourself to be vulnerable by seeking feedback on the hospital leadership’s performance are avenues to implementing a transparency policy within your rural hospital.

At the Center for Optimizing Rural Health, our team utilizes events like the NRHA Critical Access Hospital Conference to improve networking techniques throughout the rural healthcare community and our hospitals. Our monthly webinars, hospital calls, blog posts, and ECHOs provide a unique safe space for asking hard questions and building relationships with other hospitals that understand the challenges of rural healthcare. The team at CORH has seen first-hand how the inter-hospital conversations that arise from our events and resources lead to relationships and community-building among our rural healthcare facilities.