Rural hospitals are helping communities across northeast Indiana rise together

City living and country living can be vastly different. Even so, rural and urban residents share a common need: Access to quality healthcare.

If you live in a city, you might assume access to medical care is readily available. But, in rural areas, hospitals aren’t always a given.

According to the National Rural Health Association, 98 rural hospitals have closed since 2010, and hundreds more are likely to follow. Several research studies (see sidebar) have confirmed what many already know to be true: Hospitals play a vital role in rural communities.

In northeast Indiana, hospitals play an important role in community development, as well. They not only help attract businesses and talent to the region, but also partner with other community agencies to address local health needs.

Having local hospitals in rural areas builds up the local community.

Hospitals are employers themselves, too, providing thousands of jobs and contributing to the local economy. In fact, northeast Indiana’s top two employers are healthcare systems.

Matt Fetter, President and CEO of Metal Technologies in Auburn, explains how the benefits of rural hospitals go beyond the hospital’s walls. Matt Fetter

“It’s vital to have access to care in the community you live in,” Fetter says. “Even though Fort Wayne is very close, rural hospitals are unique in that the caregivers live here. They go to the same churches; their kids are in the same schools; you see them at the store. They’re advocates for health not just in the hospital, but out in the community.”

How hospitals benefit community development

Fetter, who served on the former DeKalb Health board for five years, says hospitals are vital to the development of rural and small towns.

“In healthcare today, you want the best technology, the best equipment, and the best doctors,” he says. “You want people in the community to have confidence that they’re going to receive the best possible care.”

As a business leader, Fetter says the local hospital helps attract new talent and support current employees.

“They want to see services here that support the needs of their families,” he explains. 

Beth Sherman, Executive Director of the LaGrange County Chamber of Commerce, agrees that a community’s hospital is vital to recruitment. She says Parkview LaGrange Hospital is a big draw for residents and businesses who are looking to move to the area.

“Who wants to move to a community that doesn’t have a hospital?” she says, matter-of-factly. Beth Sherman

When her husband had a heart attack, Sherman was relieved to have the hospital just minutes from home. Now, her husband is able to see his cardiologist for follow-up visits in LaGrange, as doctors from the Parkview Heart Institute come to the outpatient clinic there.

“If we didn’t have that local access to care, it could take up a whole day for us driving to Fort Wayne for a half-hour appointment,” she says.

Partners in health

As access to healthcare in rural communities grows, the role of the rural, community hospital has changed significantly over the past decades, explains Gary Adkins, President of Parkview Noble Hospital, in a recent post for Parkview Health.

“These days, rural hospitals routinely provide services which were once only available in more urban healthcare settings,” Adkins says.

But the hospital doesn’t do it alone. They often partner with other community organizations that support the health and well-being of rural residents.

Adkins explains that, like Parkview’s other hospitals, every few years Parkview Noble Hospital completes a community health needs assessment to identify local health needs. The results from this assessment are then used to identify opportunities and prioritize efforts to impact the health of the community. Gary Adkins

In Noble County, for example, Community Health Improvement grants are given to organizations that offer services not currently available at the hospital, which support the top three designated health priorities–obesity, tobacco use and addiction, and drug abuse.

Better together

In DeKalb County, the newest Parkview hospital will be key in maintaining its thriving rural communities. Tasha Eicher, President of Parkview DeKalb Hospital, says her team understands the importance of access to care for all residents.

“We look forward to the future as part of Parkview Health,” Eicher says. “Together, we will honor the history of DeKalb Health and continue to build on its success. This partnership strengthens our ability to provide high-quality care in DeKalb County for many years to come.”

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