Our nation is in the midst of unprecedented change, and healthcare is in the thick of it. To better serve the needs of individuals we are placing greater emphasis on improving the patient experience; we are focused like a laser beam on enhancing quality and patient safety; and we are striving to increase value and make care affordable.
At the same time, we are transforming the delivery system to provide care in more seamless ways across all settings. Adding to the challenge, as we implement these changes, 1 out of every 3 hospitals is fighting to survive. Often these hospitals are in small towns and inner cities, and their closure would put residents at risk of losing access to local healthcare services. As we strive to improve the health of our communities and ensure access to care, such loss is of great concern.
The American Hospital Association recognized an urgent need to provide a path forward for preservation of essential healthcare services—including local primary care, psychiatric and substance abuse treatment as well as emergency services—in vulnerable rural and urban communities. As a result, the AHA board of trustees appointed a 29-member task force, which spent over a year researching and talking with communities across the country to identify ways hospitals can partner with their community leaders to meet these challenges.
Clearly, although there are some similarities, the needs of a rural hospital in North Dakota and an inner-city hospital in Baltimore differ. Therefore, after much study, our task force identified nine emerging strategies. We believe each is a viable option for preserving essential health services that foster good health and for giving every hospital—regardless of how you define the “H”—to serve as an access point, or anchor of service, in their communities.