What Exactly IS a Community Hospital?

community hospital

Community hospital. For many people, the term conjures up images of a small, local, well-run quaint health care facility complete with friendly staff and kind doctors who all possess a folksy bedside manner. Reasonable sounding, isn’t it? But is there a formal definition, a generally accepted standard of what constitutes a community hospital? 

The American Hospital Association defines community hospitals as all non-federal, short-term, general, and other special hospitals including academic medical centers or other teaching hospitals. Interestingly enough, the definition included college and prison infirmaries prior to 1972. But, does this rather sterile definition truly explain what a “community hospital” is?  

The AHA also 
breaks down community hospitals further, distinguishing between rural community hospitals and urban community hospital. 

Or should we rely on Becker’s Hospital Review list of 100 Great Community Hospitals which only includes those that have fewer than 550 beds and minimal teaching programs?

Perhaps we should look at Medicare, which defines such a facility as any hospital: 

  • Located more than 35 road miles from another hospital
  • That, by reason of factors such as the time required for an individual to travel to the nearest alternative source of appropriate inpatient care…location, weather conditions, travel conditions, or absence of other like hospitals…is the sole source of inpatient hospital services reasonably available to individuals in a geographic area who are entitled to benefits under Medicare or, 
  • Designated as an essential access community hospital under Medicare. 

Clearly, then, there is no hard and fast rule as to what constitutes a community hospital. There are however, certain characteristics some would argue they all share. These likely include:

1. Communication: Prioritization of managing patient expectations.

In order for a community hospital to truly be a part of the community it serves, it must establish open, honest and clear communication that is conducive to a dialog between it and the people it serves. People should have a complete understanding of what the facility provides (and doesn’t provide), what the policies are regarding access, treatment protocols, payment requirements and other issues associated with health care. The hospital board and staff should welcome questions, suggestions, concerns and general comments for the stated purpose of ensuring that the community is provided the best care and treatment the facility can provide. 

2. They follow the money, but they ensure the money follows the health care needs of the community. 

Clearly, no healthcare facility can operate at a financial loss for any significant period of time. Donors must be courted, other funding sources secured. However, a community hospital must ensure that it attends to the needs of its patients in addition to focusing on the bottom line. Making financial decisions that maximize the resources of the facility and the staff that work there should be a top priority. Reputation is built on more than fundraising success and sparkling new equipment for its own sake – spending should have a specific, care-based focus.  

Local governance.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the hospital is completely governed by the community in which it is located, simply that local facility management has meaningful input into how the hospital is run rather than being dictated to by the corporation that owns the hospital. 

Location, location, location. 

Joe Lupica, chairman of Newpoint Healthcare Advisors, succinctly sums up the point: “A community hospital is a place where care can come to a patient, instead of forcing a patient to drive far away for care.” The community must not only be served, it must be made to feel that it is being served. 

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