Rural hospitals create community and drive economic impact in rural areas

Health care is one of the largest industries in rural Arizona, and hospital leaders are using the economic impact of hospitals and medical facilities to create job opportunities and establish lasting community connections in rural areas.

“Health care is one of those things that not only directly creates jobs and directly drives economic impact, but does it indirectly as well,” said Greg Taylor, regional vice president of community affairs at Arizona Complete Health, an integrated Medicaid health plan. Taylor introduced a panel about healthcare as an economic driver at the Rural Development Forum hosted by Local First Arizona in Wickenburg on August 9, 2018.

Neal Jensen, CEO of Cobre Valley Regional Medical Center (CVRMC), spoke at the forum to advocate for community-based health solutions in rural towns. CVRMC is one of Globe-Miami’s largest employers, and Jensen estimated that CVRMC’s economic impact in Arizona is now close to $100 million.

“There’s no such thing as a healthy community without a healthy hospital,” Jensen said. “Rural health care matters… you’d have to see, having worked in these small communities, what happens to health care and how it gets delivered changes significantly. But we provide access to critical services.”

Jensen requires 70 percent of hospital staff and 100 percent of physicians and administrators to be residents of the communities they serve. Jensen said he spends a lot of time trying to recruit doctors and other medical professionals to fill high-dollar jobs in Globe, and property ownership is key to creating a thriving community.

“If there’s no one there recruiting doctors, there won’t be doctors in your community,” Jensen said. One of the biggest challenges is getting professionals interested in living in a small town. “People want the basics. They want clean streets, they want sidewalks, they want parks, they want good schools.”

Many people want amenities that may not be available in rural areas, such as shopping, theaters and high-speed internet. Diversity in housing, such as apartments and subdivisions, are also on the list.

“That’s very hard in rural communities,” Jensen said. “There’s an industry shortage of physicians, and we’re living it. But not only that; there are only three percent of doctors that go to rural communities, and of that three percent, when you want to pull them to a blue-collar rural community, it’s even a much smaller subset.”

So what is the solution? According to Jensen, it’s about creating meaningful relationships between the hospital, government, local businesses and residents of rural towns. CVRMC has partnered with the Globe-Miami Chamber of Commerce and the Globe Rotary Club, among others, to get hospital administrators involved in community business leadership. The hospital even co-signs construction loans for new housing developments in the area.

“We participate in all fashions in our community to make sure the community knows who we are, why we’re there and why we’re important to them,” Jensen said. Partnerships are the future of rural hospitals, he said. “I like the road less traveled. We don’t go down the easy road, we go down the tough road and push change all the time. Every decision is a strategic decision.”

It is extremely important to consider long-term impact when deciding where to spend money and how to direct resources, Jensen said. Recent developments for CVRMC include a 67,000 square foot expansion to the Globe campus and a new 5,000 square foot clinic in Superior, where the success of a new facility depends on community involvement.

“You can’t do it alone; you need partners,” Jensen said. “Set high expectations; no one rises to low expectations.”

Graham Bosch

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