By Becky Wiese
Rural hospitals have had to weather some difficult times over the past 50 years. The population has shifted and advanced the age of the typical patient as young families have moved away from farming communities. In the interim, costs associated with providing medical care have skyrocketed. The need for updated technology and its associated price tag has been daunting.
Changes in reimbursement models (Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare”), with the new focus on patient outcomes and preventative medicine, have created the need for hospitals to reevaluate the services they provide and take a hard look at what they should charge for their services.
What’s more, it has become increasingly difficult to attract physicians who are willing to work in rural areas — and without doctors, there can be no hospitals.
Faced with these challenges, it’s not a surprise that many small hospitals have had to close their doors, leaving large parts of rural America without access to local health care facilities and emergency rooms (ERs).
Hopedale Medical Complex (HMC) in the southern Tazewell County community of Hopedale (population 900) is a bright spot on this darkening horizon. The Complex continues to make strides in not only surviving the current health care climate, but shows every sign of thriving as it looks to the future.
A 60-Year History of Innovation
Founded in 1955, Hopedale Hospital was the culmination of efforts led by Dr. Lawrence Rossi, Sr. and local volunteer donors. He, along with citizens of the town of Hopedale and the surrounding community, felt it important to have medical care at the local level. And after the 20-bed hospital opened, it didn’t take long for Dr. Rossi to realize that providing a home for elderly patients who needed ongoing medical care made sense. So, in 1957, the Hopedale Nursing Home opened as the first of its kind in the state of Illinois. It was physically connected to the hospital.
After opening the nursing home, Dr. Rossi started an innovative continuum-of-care approach to treating patients that has continued to grow and flourish in spite of difficult economic times and increasing challenges. He opened what’s thought to be one of the first assisted living facilities in Illinois (“Hopedale House”) in 1962. The hospital and 76-bed nursing home were transferred to the non-profit charitable Hopedale Medical Foundation in 1961. The Foundation’s Board is made up of nine local citizens who have watched HMC grow into a state-of-the-art health care destination. The Complex now boasts a modern 25-bed “critical access hospital,” 51-bed skilled nursing home, and 70-bed assisted and independent living facility (Hopedale Commons).
Moreover, before his death in 2001, Dr. Rossi saw a need for preventative and proactive health activities for the members of the community. HMC pursued his vision and opened a beautiful $2.5 million 34,000 square foot Wellness Center on July 4th, 2002, and dedicated it in Dr. Rossi’s memory. The Center boasts a walking track, junior-Olympic sized lap pool, cardio equipment, basketball court, and a host of fitness classes and other options geared to offer its 1200 members a great local option for fitness and physical therapy services. It is the home of an outstanding physical therapy and sports medicine rehab unit.
In addition, HMC has four satellite physician offices in the communities of Mackinaw, Delavan, Manito, and Atlanta. Other important services under the HMC umbrella include a pharmacy, on-site daycare, and the Midwest Vascular Institute, a physician group specializing in vascular treatment and care.
Dr. Rossi’s innovative spirit continues under the direction of one of his sons, Mark Rossi, the chief operating officer. All five of Mark’s brothers are physicians. Four of them practice at the Hopedale Medical Complex, and two of Dr. Rossi’s five daughters also work for HMC entities: Cynthia Noreuil is the director of the assisted living facility, and Lisa McLaughlin is the director of the pharmacy. Dr. Rossi’s surviving widow is 92 years young and lives at Hopedale Commons.
“My dad was an innovator and health care pioneer,” says Mark. “He built the first nursing home and connected it to the hospital because it just made sense (and better care) not to put patients in an ambulance and travel to area ‘old folks’ homes. He identified the needs of his patients and the community and took steps to fill those gaps.” No one could ever tell Dr. Rossi his ideas would not work. He just did it.
A Perfect Recipe for Success — Family
It turns out that Dr. Rossi’s continuum of care model in 1957, where the doctor and patient are “the center of the universe,” and his ability to diversify the various income streams, has helped HMC survive in today’s tough economic times. But that’s not the only unique and positive quality that has contributed to the organization’s success.
The fact that the hospital has a literal “family” of doctors and 300 employees who have dedicated their lives and careers to the organization is a huge advantage to the patient. “I would say 98 percent of adult medicine issues are things we can treat here without transferring the patient,” says Rossi. That’s pretty amazing for a small hospital, and it’s because the three Rossi primary care physicians are also surgeons.
The four Rossi physicians at Hopedale include Larry, Jr., who specializes in anesthesiology and pain treatment; “Dr. Al” (the CEO), who practices primary care and general surgery; and Drs. Matt and Phil, who both practice primary care and general/vascular surgery. All the Rossi doctors are Board certified in their fields. Brother Tom Rossi, is also a general surgeon in nearby Peoria. If surgery is needed for one of the Rossi patients, they have the skills and facilities at Hopedale to take care of the patient right there. This “hybrid” combination of primary care (general medicine) and surgeon is one of the main benefits the patients enjoy because they don’t get lost in the specialist shuffle in the “big city.”
Hopedale also contracts with other highly skilled physicians to provide coverage in the emergency department and specialty care. “Specialists come in usually one day a week so that our patients don’t have to be inconvenienced by traveling far from their homes for their care,” explains Rossi. “Our average ER wait time in our new ER is under 15 minutes. That’s unheard of.”
The roster of specialists includes an allergist, pain specialist, cardiologist, nephrologist, orthopedist, podiatrist, oncologist, dentist, physiatrist, and urologist. Not only can patients receive a variety of medical services at Hopedale, they are getting high quality care. “Our doctors and health care team are extremely efficient and have excellent outcomes. Their hybrid training allows us to provide a ‘medical home’ for our patients — so we can take care of nearly everything in-house.”
In fact, Rossi is quick to point out that with the changes that came under “Obamacare” and the advent of accountable care organizations (ACO’s), HMC is well situated to thrive in that model. Why? “We are already extremely efficient at providing quality care at a below average cost for a typical patient,” he says. “A consultant recently told us to keep doing what we’re doing — we already have an efficient operational model so it should be able to survive the ACA’s changes.”
Community support has also contributed greatly to the success of Hopedale Medical Complex. “The people in rural areas, especially farmers, tend to be fiercely independent and willing to fight to protect what is important to them, whether it is their local school, grocery store, or hospital,” explains Rossi. “And, they are extremely appreciative and loyal.”
The commitment goes both ways: HMC supports and is interested in the well being of its community. With more than 20,000 outpatient visits every year, there’s a good chance that most of them have had some kind of experience in the ER or have been impacted by something the hospital has done or provided. The high school scholarship program has granted more than a half million dollars in scholarships since 1980. The hospital pays over $300,000 a year in property taxes and has a $10 million payroll.
Staying Current: Renovations, Upgrades, and New Strategies
The community’s support was also evident through the recent fundraising campaign for a major renovation and upgrade to the acute care hospital. “We raised more than one million dollars from the community with no large corporate gifts,” says Rossi. The renovations began in October 2013 and are expected to be completed in April 2015, in time for a perfectly timed Open House on HMC’s 60th anniversary celebration on May 9th.
The renovations, totaling over $9 million and designed by a St. Louis architect, include a variety of elements. The new addition features a modern lobby and glass atrium, a four-bed ICU, three-suite Emergency Department, six-bed Ambulatory Surgery Department (outpatient surgery), and six beautiful “super-sized” private hospital rooms. Other upgrades throughout the hospital include a $1 million upgrade to the angiography suite for vascular surgery, a helipad, and a multitude of IT enhancements such as a new telephone system, nurse call system, security cameras, wireless access, and updated electronic medical records system. The hospital campus has been wired for telemedicine capability with fiber optics.
CORE Construction from Morton built the facility, which was financed locally at Heartland Bank in Bloomington. While some of these upgrades were necessary to maintain HMC’s status as a Critical Access Hospital, they also will serve to help attract future physicians, and, of course, allow the hospital to better serve its patients for many years to come.
Although HMC has demonstrated success for 60 years, its Board, administration, physicians, and staff are not content to rest on their laurels. “We are constantly looking to adjust our business model and make strategic decisions for the future — including adding new services and talented staff. But the patient’s interest must always come first, as that’s how Dr. Rossi found his huge success. We don’t intend to ever change that! We are well aware that the Rossi physicians will retire at some point ... and while we hope one or more of the two dozen Rossi grandchildren who are currently physicians (or are studying to be physicians) might be willing to serve Hopedale into the future, we are also diligently recruiting other physicians who have the same passion to practice rural health care consistent with Dr. Rossi’s model,” Mark says.
The innovative spirit and diversification of services that Dr. Rossi started in 1955 continues to thrive. Case in point: The Wellness Center will expand to offer even more services that focus on proactive health, such as farm-to-table seminars and cooking classes, growing/purchasing local food products for hospital patients and nursing home residents, yoga, and other preventive strategies. “We have a new chef, and I’ve already challenged him to have 20 percent of our food served from local sources by year end,” says Rossi.
The newest addition to the HMC operation is the White Fence Estate; the former 7,000 square foot Rossi home located a half-mile from HMC. It features massage therapy and exercise classes in a serene, country setting and soon will have gardens and conference rooms for meetings and other community functions.
“Our core mission is to continue to maintain high quality, personalized care for our patients and residents focusing on a peaceful, ‘no hassle’ environment that stresses patient privacy and your own ‘personal doctor.’ Our entire staff and Board of Directors are being proactive to secure the future of HMC,” Rossi goes on to say. “We offer excellent medical care, old fashioned values, state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, forward-thinking new programs, and our passion is to continue to serve our patients and community for another 60 years and beyond.”
Based on its successful history, there’s every reason to believe this strategy will enable Hopedale Medical Complex to continue to thrive well into the future.
For more information about Hopedale Medical Complex, you may email Mark Rossi at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit them online at www.hopedalemc.com. Follow Hopedale Medical Complex on Facebook and keep up on what is going on at HMC!
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