5 Key Steps for a Thriving Critical Access Hospital

January 11, 2022
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Key Takeaways

  • The most successful critical access hospitals (CAHs) nimbly adapt to ongoing challenges in the healthcare industry.
  • Stakeholder investment in your facility’s strategic plan is essential to achieving patient care goals.
  • Regular internal and external reviews are necessary to keep your critical access hospital in good financial and administrative health.

Due to the unique operating conditions of critical access hospitals (CAHs), many factors can affect financial and administrative bottom lines. From financial struggles to consolidation to management turnover, CAHs face threats from all sides.

If you know where to look within your operations for deficiencies and opportunities, your hospital can not only navigate these challenges, but thrive.

The State of Critical Access Hospitals

Two years post-pandemic, healthcare organizations still face residual challenges. COVID-19, along with the emergence of mobile health and telehealth, changed how patients approach their healthcare needs. Payors are holding back from price increases, and, in some cases, insurance companies are coming up with more ways to deny payment.

CAHs in particular are facing unprecedented increases in costs. Although labor and supply expenses have increased for the long term, many still face pressures to reach target volumes to help cover increasing costs.

Scheduling challenges and staff burnout make it difficult for many facilities to keep up. The pandemic helped to mask these issues initially, but the after-effects of COVID will likely continue to exacerbate them.

How to Create a Thriving Critical Access Hospital

In an industry that historically does not adapt to change quickly, your management team needs the knowledge and skillsets for both proactive and responsive processes.

Here are five of the most important things to ensure a healthy and thriving critical access hospital.

Have a vision and follow it through.

Thoroughly assess your CAH and visualize where you’d like it to go. It’s important to look to the future because past strategies won’t necessarily dictate future success. Strategically align forward-thinking business goals with current practices, even if you don't plan to address all tasks simultaneously.

Map out your business process and workflows. Ask yourself: how does data flow throughout your organization? Who needs what information and when?

Know your challenges.

What hurdles must your organization overcome? Are they driven by finances, the workforce, internal communication, or technology? Identify your challenges and plan to address each one with executive buy-in.

Take proactive measures to assess business risk, uncover waste within processes, and acknowledge where systems impeded growth. By reviewing your business early and often, you’ll be able to improve quality, avoid costly mistakes, and enhance patient outcomes across the care continuum.

Leverage the resources you have.

It’s important to leverage your existing technology, data, financial and human resources, and health equipment to your advantage. By optimizing existing resources, you can streamline tasks and processes wherever possible, ultimately resulting in improved patient care.

Whether implementing telehealth solutions, speeding up workflows, or flexing staff schedules and work locations, using your resources efficiently is imperative for a healthy bottom line.

Be fiscally fit.

Conduct your own annual audits internally and have an outside firm do one every three years. Audits examining new programs, current organizational structure, costs, and revenues can assure of the integrity of your existing processes. This constant vigilance can also identify areas that need to be streamlined and where compliance could be improved. Develop a vision of opportunities within your pricing strategies, chargemaster, forecasting work, task planning, and operations.

Be accountable.

Today’s healthcare environment requires agility and proactive strategy. Ensure your organization can adapt to meet the goals of your strategic plan while adhering to your system of checks and balances. Your managing board and executive leadership should be involved and invested in every piece of your plan. This type of support will help increase accountability across the organization.

How a Trusted Partner Can Help Your Critical Access Hospital

CAHs are in a constant state of upheaval. New technology, financial regulations, and staffing issues keep these facilities searching for ways to operate more effectively. The strongest critical access hospitals will thrive with an attainable plan that includes growth opportunities and plan contingencies.

A long-standing partnership with a trusted CPA and advisory firm can help a critical access hospital understand its goals and achieve fiscal viability and growth.

“The opportunity to strengthen your critical access hospital’s bottom line is Eide Bailly’s specialty,” says Ralph Llewellyn, Critical Access Hospital Practice Leader. “When clients work with us, they get access to a vast toolbox of comprehensive, tailored professionals whose sole goal is to help clients thrive.”

Eide Bailly’s healthcare professionals include CEOs, CFOs, COOs, VPs, controllers, and business office professionals who have worked in healthcare organizations and understand the complex issues critical access hospitals face.

The result is guidance, support, and assistance that allows critical access hospitals like Madison Regional Health System to serve its surrounding communities. “I wouldn’t keep going back to Eide Bailly if I didn’t have the confidence and trust in every team member I work with,” says Teresa Mallet, CFO. “I learn something new every time I talk to them.”

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Here’s how one critical access hospital used operational efficiency to manage growth.

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About the Author(s)

Ralph Llewellyn

Ralph J. Llewellyn, CPA

Partner/Critical Access Hospitals Industry Leader
Ralph conducts operational assessments to assist providers in enhancing financial and operational performance, including financial strategies for financial turnaround of healthcare facilities. He provides chargemaster/cost report audits and redesign projects, and he conducts reimbursement enhancement studies for healthcare providers. He assists providers in developing physician compensation agreements.