By Michelle Fortune, St. Luke’s Hospital CEO

As I rush around putting Christmas wreaths away and preparing for the new year, I realize that even though I try to stay on top of things, I feel very behind. Do you ever feel that way – like life has gotten ahead of you and you are just trying to catch up? As I attempt to juggle all of the tasks facing me in this new year, I’m reminded of the delicate balance involving our nation’s healthcare dilemma and how this affects St. Luke’s and its patients. Nationally, healthcare is experiencing enormous change. Systems are merging, new regulations are being passed and many discussions are taking place about potential solutions to “the American healthcare problem.” Healthcare providers and legislators constantly explore ways to reduce the cost of healthcare. As patients, we have all had the experience of opening a medical invoice and frowning. We want the best care but prefer to pay less out of pocket to get it. It creates a difficult push and pull for healthcare providers. Rural hospitals, like St. Luke’s, are particularly vulnerable as the waters of healthcare swirl attempting to find the new normal. 

Many of you have heard about changes over the past six months at St. Luke’s Hospital. Difficult decisions have been made to ensure that we stop losing money and continue to provide the great care our community deserves. We have reduced the number of leadership positions and worked to find cost savings in areas where we were previously not able to break even. Every team member is being asked to work diligently to eliminate areas of waste and embrace more efficient management practices.

Because of these team efforts, our local healthcare network is growing and improving! Our general surgery program with Dr. Gerhardt Winkel is expanding, and Saluda Family Medicine is increasing their focus on bringing access to healthcare for more of our rural neighbors. Our collective organization has improved financially, and though we still have work to do, we are headed in a very promising direction. 

Patients make all this possible, and especially as we enter into a new decade, we recognize that patients are our greatest gift. We want to create value for them. That may mean doing things differently in the future. Our number-one focus is to improve our process while retaining the best possible care. Why does it matter? Because this hospital is our community’s hospital. It is 100 percent locally and independently owned. It has existed for 90 years and has always provided exceptional care, close to home. We want to see it exist for another 90 years and beyond.

Over the last ten years, more than 100 hospitals in rural areas of America have closed their doors, many citing the inability to continue financially. The prospect of upgrading expensive radiology equipment, replacing roofs, buying medications and hospital grade supplies along with shrinking payments from commercial and governmental insurers was a deadly potion to them. Twenty-five percent of rural hospitals that closed were in the Southeast. Ten percent were in the Carolinas – a sobering thought. The communities those hospitals served were drastically changed as residents suddenly found themselves driving long distance for life-saving care that used to be right around the corner. We cannot allow the same fate to befall St. Luke’s.  

So, as you race around trying to recover from the holidays while simultaneously preparing for a new year, I hope you’ll take a little time to ponder all the blessings in your life, and just maybe having St. Luke’s Hospital in our rural community is near the top of that list. The future may sometimes seem to be arriving sooner than expected, and you may feel like you’re always racing to catch up, but rest assured, we’re on this healthcare journey together, and we’ve got you covered every day of 2020 and beyond. 

I invite you to learn more about St. Luke’s Hospital by emailing your questions and concerns to michelle.fortune@slhnc.org. 

St. Luke’s Hospital is located in Columbus, North Carolina.