AthenaInsight, an online trade publication from Athena Health, featured Gibson Area Hospital in a recent article titled “Community Hospitals: This is your moment.” The piece shines a light on exemplary rural hospitals that are bucking the trend of closing and instead thriving. In the excerpt below (shared with permission from the author Gale Pryor), Rob Schmitt, CEO of Gibson Area Hospital & Health Services, provides insight to the success of the organization under his leadership.
(For the full article, please visit www.athenahealth.com/insight/community-hospitals-your-moment)
Expanded services, led by physicians
Just south of Chicago, north of St. Louis, and west of Indianapolis, Gibson Area Hospital of Illinois has what most small rural hospitals do not: a convenient location. “We have physicians who live in Chicago and drive here for the day. Or physicians who want to be near Chicago but live in a small town,” says Rob Schmitt, CEO.
As for patients, “Plenty of people still think bigger is better and go elsewhere, but data prove that our quality and care is as good or better than the big places.” In May 2018, Gibson earned a Patient Safety Excellence Award from Healthgrades, one of 26 hospitals in Illinois and the only critical access hospital to receive an award, which is given to the top 10 percent of hospitals in the nation.
When Schmitt arrived in 2002 as the chief financial officer, the hospital was “quaint and small, functioning but pretty much like any other small, rural hospital.” But he saw the opportunity for the organization to grow. The previous CFO had put the financial house in order, the hospital had a strong board of directors and a medical staff rooted in primary care. “It had all the makings of a place that could become something better than it was,” says Schmitt.
Fueling its growth was a medical team who understood the needs of their patients. “They’re the ones who say, “Hey, we should have this service. Let’s recruit this specialty. Let’s put a clinic in this community.’” That entrepreneurial mindset has led to a network of 27 primary care and specialty clinics across Gibson’s service area and a rich menu of patient education and community outreach programs, from running a food pantry to supporting field trips in the local schools.
In each area, the process of expanding Gibson’s footprint followed a pattern: Start small, grow fast and fearlessly.
Take Elite Performance, the hospital’s fitness program. Begun in the basement of the hospital’s physical therapy area for a handful of athletes, it has expanded to four locations open to anyone in the community. The key, says Schmitt, is that participants must set a goal, whether losing weight or running a 5K, and work with a trainer to reach it. “If we’re really going to be held responsible for making sure everybody’s healthy,” says Schmitt, “and that’s what eventually we’re going to get paid for, then you’re going to have some kind of service like this.”
It's no surprise that Gibson Area Hospital has become the largest employer in the county, with an annual economic benefit for the region of approximately $200 million. “That’s big money for everybody – all the services and businesses we support, all the communities that we employ people in,” says Schmitt. “I’m just a big believer in supporting the community core.”
Good medicine for patients
And that, perhaps, is the single most important lesson small, ruralhospitals offer large hospitals and health systems as the industry feels its way forward: Caring for communities is good medicine for patients.
“I grew up in a very small town. I’m a rural person at heart,” says Schmitt. “I get that everybody supports everybody else.”
Author Gale Pryor is senior editor of athenaInsight.