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Health care leaders say community involvement is key in response to rural hospital closure

Nancy Radcliff speaking into a microphone with a slide with data on the population breakdown of Lawrence County by insurance type.
Abigail Ruhman
/
IPB News
Nancy Radcliff is the CEO of Southern Indiana Community Health Care — one of the organizations that helped develop the response. She said people need to be informed about what resources are still available, but getting people that information can be difficult.

When a critical access hospital in southern Indiana closed in 2022, health care leaders invited the community to contribute to a response plan.

Several of those leaders say community involvement was an important part of ensuring access to care.

Health care leaders only had a few months to create a plan before Ascension St. Vincent Dunn closed in late 2022. They had to quickly identify and solve challenges that are unique to rural communities.

Nancy Radcliff is the CEO of Southern Indiana Community Health Care — one of the organizations that helped develop the response. She said people need to be informed about what resources are still available, but getting people that information can be difficult.

“The community was talking about it, yes, but there was no public newspaper anymore,” Radcliff said. “And there was one radio station for marketing.”

Radcliff said community partnerships helped health care leaders find ways to connect with patients and understand the community’s biggest concerns – and address them.

READ MORE: Indiana ‘poster child’ for national health system’s obstetrics closure trend says researcher

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Larry Bailey, COO of IU Health Bedford Hospital, said Bedford is unique compared to other rural hospital closures because the community had a second hospital.

However, some of the services offered at Ascension weren’t available at IU Health Bedford. One big loss was obstetrics care, so Bailey said IU Health hired an OB navigator.

“They're aware of what resources are available to them in the community, what doctors are taking patients, and really guiding those expectant mothers, through their journey, up to and even following, the birth of their child there,” Bailey said.

Health care leaders also worked with the community to address concerns around other losses, such as primary care and some social services.

Abigail is our health reporter. Contact them at aruhman@wboi.org.

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Abigail Ruhman covers statewide health issues. Previously, they were a reporter for KBIA, the public radio station in Columbia, Missouri. Ruhman graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.