Remarkable Milestone. Remarkable Care. Remarkable Community.
On February 21, 2023, Rockcastle Regional Hospital met a milestone that few rural hospitals likely have reached – it surpassed 3 million patient encounters.
“That we have served so many for so long is a tribute to Rockcastle Regional’s longstanding commitment to this community,” said Stephen A. Estes, Rockcastle Regional president and CEO, “as well as to the community’s commitment to us.”
That mutual bond formed in 1956, the year local community leaders founded Rockcastle County Hospital.
It has continued ever since, through financial obstacles in the earlier years to long periods of growth, to coping with COVID-19 and the challenges it has presented for healthcare throughout the world.
An innovative spirit coupled with bold, forward-thinking leadership has helped Rockcastle Regional achieve a reputation for quality while maintaining consistent financial stability.
The rise of its nationally known Respiratory Care Center provides an example of such innovation. Decades ago, to meet a growing statewide demand for ventilator care, hospital leaders made the decision to convert the organization’s skilled nursing facility to a Respiratory Care Center.
Since then, one expansion has followed another, including a massive 74,000-square-foot addition in 2018. Now at 143 beds, the ventilator facility treats patients from throughout Kentucky and the eastern half of the U.S. and is the largest freestanding ventilator-dependent facility in the country.
The ventilator unit is a big part of a campus that has always offered acute care and emergency services, but has grown to include surgery, rehabilitation services, behavioral healthcare, cancer care, and many other specialties.
“We’ve maintained a growth mindset,” Estes said. “While many other rural hospitals have been in a survival mode, we’ve been able to seize opportunities that have helped us expand.”
That expansion is particularly remarkable given the challenging rural healthcare landscape.
A 2022 report from the American Hospital Association (AHA) reported 136 rural hospital closures from 2010 to 2021, and a record 19 closures in 2020 alone.
The AHA notes that rural hospitals face many pressures that are not as pronounced among other hospitals, including low reimbursement, staffing shortages, low patient volume, and regulatory barriers. Recently, expenses for labor, drugs, supplies, and equipment have also increased dramatically, ultimately causing difficulties in maintaining access to care for people in rural communities.
"While many hospitals and health systems are facing unprecedented challenges, those faced in rural America are unique,” said AHA President and CEO Rick Pollack.
One ongoing barrier to rural healthcare access is physician recruitment, but Rockcastle Regional has met this challenge head on by building a pipeline of pre-med and medical students as well as residents.
The result? Those who seek care at Rockcastle will likely be treated by one of nine physicians who are Rockcastle natives. All were educated in Rockcastle County Schools, and many began working at Rockcastle Regional straight out of medical school. In addition, 10 mid-level professionals (Physician Assistants or Advance Practice Registered Nurses) who are Rockcastle natives also practice at Rockcastle Regional.
“We’ve learned that successful physician staff recruitment is a long-term proposition,” Estes said. “You have to look ten years ahead, build those critical relationships, and stay the course.”
“We’re proud to have endured to the point that we count patient encounters by the millions,” he said, “but we never forget that we’re only as good as how we treat that next patient, every time.”
The Kentucky Hospital Association (KHA) honored Rockcastle Regional achievement in February. “The KHA staff and I are excited to congratulate Rockcastle Regional Hospital for reaching this incredible milestone,” said Nancy Galvagni, president and CEO of KHA. “This achievement is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the hospital staff and demonstrates their commitment to providing quality health care to the community. We look forward to working with the team in Mount Vernon for many years to come as they continue providing compassionate, quality care for the region.”