Health Watch/Pam Dove, MS, RD

According to the American Hospital Association, rural hospitals provide essential health care services to nearly 54 million people throughout the United States. Throughout the Upper Peninsula, rural health care plays a significant role in the health and vitality of small communities. Although the role and structure of rural hospitals has changed over the past few years, they continue to expand and diversify to provide a broader and more appropriate mix of services to meet the needs of surrounding communities. Much of this is made possible through networking among rural hospitals, and affiliations with larger hospitals, physician groups or other health care providers.

This type of collaboration is extremely beneficial to patients requiring medical services in rural areas. Many rural hospitals, such as Baraga County Memorial Hospital, offer a variety of services locally through affiliation with larger entities such as Marquette General, a Duke Lifepoint Hospital. Because of this, people no longer have to drive an hour or more in order to obtain specialty services. Many rural health hospitals, including BCMH, offer specialty clinics such as oncology, sports medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, podiatry, ophthalmology, cardiology, urology, neurology, general surgery, orthopedic and ear, nose and throat services right at their facility. Moreover, when visiting a specialty physician, often times, necessary tests and services can be provided at the local hospital with results being sent directly to the specialty physician upon completion.

Furthermore, surgeries may also be done by a specialty physician at your local hospital. Examples of surgeries performed at BCMH include foot, knee and hip surgery, urology surgery, eye surgery and general surgery. This opportunity presents a win-win situation for all patients, providers and rural communities as a whole, as the provision of specialty services and procedures locally is more convenient for the patient, decreases travel time and expense and it also helps to keep services that can be provided locally in the hometown, which supports the economic growth of the community. In many small towns, rural hospitals are often the largest or second largest employer. Hospital employees and their families help to sustain local businesses and so on, thus playing an important part in the social capital of the community. Unfortunately, many individuals are unaware of the wide array of services rendered right in their hometown and the economic impact of obtaining these services elsewhere.

In addition to specialty clinics, BCMH, much like other rural hospitals, offers numerous outpatient procedures and services that community members may not be aware of, such as chemotherapy, injections, IV medications, endoscopy and colonscopy with state-of-the-art equipment; imaging services such as CT, MRI, X-ray, ultrasound, digital mammography, bone density and nuclear cardiology; complete diagnostic laboratory services; respiratory services; therapy services including physical, occupational and speech therapy; cardiac rehabilitation; urgent care walk-in clinic and full emergency room services; swing bed services; home care and hospice; availability of durable medical equipment such as hospital beds, home oxygen, wheelchairs and so much more.

Furthermore, community outreach is yet another important role fulfilled by many rural health hospitals. Community outreach includes the provision of evidence-based health information, tailored programs and special events to enhance the community’s health and well-being. This year, BCMH will be expanding their community outreach efforts to include more community health fairs, screenings, education and events. Through community outreach, BCMH and other rural health hospitals seek to establish meaningful partnerships with local schools, businesses, nonprofit organizations, community officials and other groups to promote wellness and a healthier lifestyle for all community residents. Community outreach demonstrates a hospitals commitment to being a vibrant and viable member of the community.

Individuals interested in learning more about the vast array of services and outreach programs offered at Baraga County Memorial Hospital, and how to support your local hospital and community, are invited to attend the BCMH Health Expo scheduled to take place during National Hospital Week this May. The purpose of this event is to introduce community members to the many services offered locally for the convenience of patients and the sustained viability of a rural health hospital. Additional details related to the event will be released soon.

Editor’s note: Pam Dove, MS, RD, is community health coordinator at Baraga County Memorial Hospital.