In 2009, Douglas, Ariz., a town on the U.S.-Mexico border, received a visit from then-“American Idol” judge Simon Cowell as part of “Idol Gives Back.” Because of a donation from the show, the town was able to convert a former school into a pediatrician's office.
“It really united the whole community,” says Neil MacKinnon, director of the Center for Rural Health at the University of Arizona. “Sometimes it comes to thinking outside of the box.”
Ashland (Kan.) Health Center, a public hospital in a town of only 900 people, was another “pretty extreme case” when Benjamin Anderson arrived as CEO in 2009.
During the past 18 years, 11 physicians had come and gone. The 24-bed hospital was operating with only one physician assistant who was working around the clock and was overseen by a physician 30 miles away who came in for a half-day a week. “That's all that was keeping this place open,” Anderson says.
Anderson approached two faculty members in the rural health program at Via Christi Health in Wichita, Kan., which has a partnership with Ashland, to ask for their help.
He was given a list of directives. He was told to offer physician recruits four days of clinic with one day a week on-call, one weekend on call a month, a salary that met the national average, and eight weeks of paid time off for international missionary work.
“You show them they can be a missionary here for 44 weeks,” Anderson recalls. “The physician who's willing to practice medicine in a mud hut in Africa—they don't need a Nordstrom's or restaurants.”
Anderson was then asked if he'd be willing to go to Africa to see for himself, and ultimately traveled to Zimbabwe to build screens around missionary housing to prevent malaria. “It was a game-changer for me. And I've been back every year since,” he says. “I was surprised by the similarities between rural America and overseas.”
Ashland now has two family medicine physicians, two physician assistants and one nurse practitioner. “We've become a little medical hub,” Anderson says, noting that six communities now benefit from the additional coverage. “We share those providers with the surrounding areas.” <<
Follow Beth Kutscher on Twitter: @MHbkutscher