While prognosis is grim for most rural hospitals, ACRMC is being transformed into a model of success –
Story and photo by Patricia Beech –
Healthcare at the Adams County Regional Medical Center (ACRMC) has expanded so rapidly in the past few years local residents no longer need to travel to nearby cities to receive quality treatment.
Three years ago the facility was in the red and many feared it was on the same slippery economic slope as so many other small rural hospitals across the country that were forced to close their doors.
So, how is the hospital adapting to Adams County’s rural needs, and how will it continue to meet the increasing demand for services?
Ask CEO Bill May.
May, who has been operationally responsible for ACRMC since 2014, assumed the CEO’s seat in 2016 to simultaneously oversee the refinancing of the hospital’s bonds and its transition from a county facility to a 501C3 nonprofit corporation.
With a career beginning 50 years ago, May worked his way up through the medical ranks – first as an orderly, then as a respiratory therapist, and later as a physician’s assistant before moving into administration.
Today, he sits behind a wide desk covered with stacks of papers, files, and folders. “My world as a CEO,” he says pointing at his desk, “is always in a state of flux because there’s always a lot going on. I tell people I work in a gray area, not black and white, there’s always something you have to deal with that takes a while to work itself through –medical staff issues, or board issues, or legal team issues – and while that’s going on it’s still business as usual here in the hospital.”
May’s parent company, Rural Hospital Group (RHG), manages both public and private critical access hospitals in rural areas across 10 states. The company has gained a reputation for managing cost efficient hospitals that offer quality healthcare. They also recruit and retain physicians while keeping costs down for community members.
“We were called in to take a look at Adams County’s hospital over 2 ½ years ago,” says May. “I brought a team of folks in and we spent some time looking at everything from A to Z – from the type of boilers to the number of employees, it was a very thorough evaluation.”
After reporting their findings to the hospital board, RHG was asked to assume management of the facility.
May, who headed up the RHG team, says one of his main concerns was the number and types of doctors employed by the hospital.
” We found a good group of physicians here, but what I wanted to do was look at the number of specialists we have in the hospital,” he says. “The goal of any small hospital should be to try and keep as many doctors local as you can so that people won’t have to drive to Cincinnati for what we call routine care.”
In the past two months he has brought on another urologist, an ophthalmologist, a pain management interventionist, and is currently looking at bringing a dermatologist on board. In addition, both Christ Hospital and the University of Cincinnati have set up Tele-medicine units in the hospital which allow doctors to see patients without either having to make a four-hour round trip.
Emphasizing the importance of team work, May heaps praise on the managers who work under him.
“When RHG came in the hospital wasn’t doing as well as it could have been. We were asked to evaluate what it would take to “turn the ship and get it back in the channel. I’ll tell you candidly, it’s not something a CEO can do alone. To run a hospital smoothly you’ve got to have a great team working with you. Some CEO’s may think they can do it all, but they can’t because there are too many people you have to answer to, you have so many constituents: the community which you want to provide quality care to, a medical staff that works with you on a daily basis, a board of trustees that you have to work with and be responsible to, and all of your employees – we have 220, and I have to be visible and answerable to all of them,” he says. “I’ve been in this role for many years and I can say unequivocally that the ACRMC management team is the best I’ve ever worked with.”
Most of his career has been spent in small hospitals and May says he prefers the dynamic of working in smaller facilities where employees are familiar with one another.
“I like having the ability to leave my office and walk around and physically see what’s going on everyday. You can’t do that in a big hospital – you have so much going on that you have to remain in your office most of the time,” he said. “I like being able to know our employees’ names and know what’s going on in their departments. I visit our emergency room a couple times a day, if for nothing more than to say hi, or to bring them a bag of candy.”
May points to the hospital’s emergency room service as an example of the high quality healthcare the facility offers.
“Again, I think that one of our major strengths here, beyond the employees who are superb, is that we have good doctors, we have a beautiful facility, and a great emergency room which I would put up against any,” he adds. “It has 16 patient rooms and is very well equipped with life-saving equipment including an on-site MRI which is unusual for a small hospital.”
Instituting an aggressive marketing campaign, May is determined to get the word out about the upgrades and improvements that have been put in place at the hospital.
“We’re doing more advertising on billboards and in newspapers, and we’re more active in the local community telling people what it is we’re doing here,” says May. “A direct result of that is an increase in the number of patients coming into the hospital. We have 25 beds on the third floor, and on average we have 17-22 patients a day up there, as well as a record number of patients coming through our outpatient services.”
More patients means that the hospital’s once sinking bottom line is moving out of the red and into the black.
“We’ve been financially strong for the past eight months in a row, and we’ve had a positive bottom line for the past eight months in a row – which is very strong,” he said. “Typically, when you come in to try and resurrect or move a hospital from where it is to a new track, it’s a little more difficult than this one has been because ACRMC has plenty of population, and the employees are dedicated to having this hospital here forever.”