ACRH: Goal is to keep ER patients here

The Saint Luke's health system made changes to the emergency room department to encourage more local residents to seek their care at Allen County Regional Hospital.



September 2, 2022 - 5:23 PM

Allen County Regional Hospital

Every minute matters during an emergency.

Steve Schieber, Saint Luke’s Health SystemCourtesy photo

So when officials with Saint Luke’s Health System took over Allen County Regional Hospital, they were concerned that so many local residents chose to seek care — especially emergency care — at other places.

It prompted Saint Luke’s to make a major change to the ER department by hiring a national group that specializes in rural, emergency care. 

“We were concerned with attrition. More and more people were choosing to go elsewhere for care,” Steve Schieber, CEO for the Critical Access Region with Saint Luke’s and interim administrator for ACRH and ACH, said.

When Saint Luke’s took over managing the hospital in July 2020, the group did an exhaustive review of services and found their initial assumption was correct. A report from the Hospital Industry Data Institute showed a significant decline in ER visits at ACRH, and an increase in such visits at other area hospitals over the previous two years. 

The Kansas Hospital Association’s latest annual report shows that in 2019, just 28% of Allen County residents sought inpatient care in their home county and 56% sought outpatient care.

“Frankly, the data backed up our concerns,” Schieber said.

That led to a recent change in emergency room management.

After asking for proposals from emergency room groups across the nation and an exhaustive review of five finalists, Saint Luke’s hired Innova Emergency Medical Association. The group took over in July at both Allen County Regional Hospital in Iola and the Anderson County Hospital in Iola; both are managed by Saint Luke’s.

“Innova is uniquely focused on rural emergency services with board-certified physicians. They have the passion for rural healthcare, as well as national resources to bring in the best of the best,” Schieber said. 

The group also was selected because they believe in becoming part of the communities they serve, he said. 

“These are physicians who are dedicated to rural health. They live in rural America, and they’re going to be contributing to the community when they are here,” Schieber said. 

PREVIOUSLY, emergency room services were provided by The Family Physicians, a group of local primary care doctors. 

Not everyone was happy to see that group displaced. The Family Physicians in July sent messages of thanks to those who supported their services over the years. 

Schieber said he understands why patients prefer to be seen by their local, primary care doctor during an emergency. 

When a patient seeks emergency care, the Innova physicians will communicate with that person’s primary care doctor as necessary. A patient can also request to see a local provider at the emergency room, if available.

“We respect that we have some great local care providers who are an intricate part of our medical staff. Certainly we will partner with them in any way we can,” Schieber said. 

However, healthcare is evolving, he said. The COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, exposed the challenges rural hospitals face as the illness faced many larger, urban hospitals to turn away or delay taking in transferred patients as their beds were full. 

Having physicians who specialize in emergency and critical care, particularly at the rural level, could help ACRH treat more patients locally with less need to transfer to a larger hospital. 

“Change is challenging for everybody,” he said. 

“And particularly in rural America, we have our challenges in healthcare. I think we’ve found a very solid partner for both our hospital and our community.”

IN OTHER hospital news, Schieber announced at a hospital facilities board meeting on Thursday that Saint Luke’s had offered a contract to a new administrator for the hospitals in Allen and Anderson counties. 

That contract is still being finalized, but he expects an announcement next week. If all goes well, that new administrator could start on Sept. 19.

Schieber has been acting as interim administrator for the two area hospitals since Elmore Patterson’s resignation in June. 



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