By Marie Barry, RWHC Director of Community & Economic Development
RWHC had the unique opportunity to host Anna Paulson, Leslie McGranahan and David Oppedahl from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago to showcase rural healthcare and the communities we serve. The conversation centered around labor shortages, childcare, housing, and changing dynamics with commercial payers.
Anna Paulson provided a brief economic outlook for attendees acknowledging current concerns with inflation and the potential of a recession. She indicated the Fed’s approach to managing this risk centers around trying to slow inflation gradually while maintaining a healthy labor market.
RWHC leaders shared about labor market conditions in their hospitals and communities to provide Fed staff with insight about current challenges and opportunities. Hospitals discussed staff working fewer hours, choosing jobs based on where housing is available, struggling to find adequate childcare, and opting for more flexible or remote work options. Hospital leaders expressed frustration with watching their employees’ paychecks leave their communities because their communities do not have the childcare or housing necessary to retain employees locally.
The group also spent some time discussing aging rural infrastructure challenges across sectors, from local government to public safety to healthcare. Access to affordable capital and other funding sources for improvement of this critical infrastructure was noted as a challenge. Capacity issues of rural communities to go after programs and funds that are available was also discussed as a force driving deeper inequities between communities.
The Fed was able to discuss some of their efforts post-2008 and in the early days of the COVID pandemic to help with economic uncertainty. They acknowledged that many of their efforts were challenging for smaller businesses and communities to reap a benefit from and their continued thought as to how better to support smaller, more rural communities and businesses.
Finally, time was dedicated to discussing the revenue side of rural healthcare. RWHC leaders provided a general understanding of how payer mixes influence healthcare viability, from Medicaid patients being the most challenging, to Medicare patients reaching near the cost of care, and commercial patients helping to keep hospitals afloat. Increasing challenges negotiating with commercial payers, especially in a highinflation environment, were shared with the Fed.
The event then transitioned to a community leader conversation including the Sauk Prairie School District, Bank of Prairie du Sac, Sauk Prairie Chamber of Commerce, McFarlane’s Manufacturing and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. The concerns shared earlier by the hospital leaders were largely reiterated by the broader group of community participants. The event concluded with a final call to action around the immense, quickly growing need for behavioral health and substance abuse treatment across rural Wisconsin.
Thank you to Sauk Prairie Healthcare and Shawn Lerch for hosting the tour and conversation. Thank you to Reedsburg Area Medical Center’s Robert Van Meeteren, Vernon Memorial Healthcare’s David Hartberg, and Prairie Ridge Health’s John Russell for graciously sharing your perspectives as hospital and community leaders!