Back from the Brink
By SUZANNE BOYD
Impeli Health's investment breaths life back into Decatur County's Hospital
Building on its motto of keeping quality healthcare close to home, Impeli Health is putting its money where its motto is and saving one fledgling rural West Tennessee Hospital from closing its doors. The company that says it is dedicated to a high quality of management and preserving rural hospitals has purchased Decatur County Hospital for $1 million and will match that amount in improvements to the facility that will be renamed Riverside Community Hospital. With a focus on community health initiatives, revitalizing the facility and the staff, Impeli Health is focused on making this facility the role model for rural healthcare facilities.
The plight of Decatur County Hospital started well before the County Commission voted to close the facility back in January 2018. The 45-bed facility in Parsons, Tennessee had been relying on county funds to barely stay afloat to the tune of $200,000 a month for some time. If the county had not voted to close the hospital, it would have been closed by the state. Had the facility closed, it would have been the ninth such rural hospital in the state since 2012.
Impeli executives expressed an interest in purchasing the facility the day after the initial vote to close. "I had been talking to County Mayor Mike Creasy and others, so we were aware of the situation. I knew I could make a difference here," said Kelly Codega, Impeli's Chief Operating Officer and CEO of Riverside Community Hospital. "There were signs around town in people's yards that said save our hospital and we wanted to. It took a couple of votes but in February the commission voted unanimously to sell us the hospital and the closing process was stopped. We took over the management contract March 1.
Under the terms of the sale, the hospital will revert from being a public non-profit entity to a private for-profit one and will be known as Riverside Community Hospital. While final approval from the Attorney General is expected in the next few weeks, Impeli has taken over management of the hospital and the arduous overhaul process has begun with signs of improvement already evident.
The hospital has been repainted, equipment added and updated as well as plans to change the front elevation to make the hospital entrance more accessible and convenient for patients. Census is up from one patient on the day Impeli took over to an average of 35. Staffing which was at a bare minimum has been increased, which actually decreased overtime costs saving the hospital money.
"In the first few weeks everyone was nervous about us being here, then they realized we are here to stay and are serious about making this a better hospital. There was more progress made in 30 days than had been in the past five years and that generated a lot of excitement," said Codega. "We even had some key former employees return that have brought a wealth of knowledge with them."
On April 16, the facility underwent a recertification audit which Codega says was one of the best things that could have happened. "It was a comprehensive inspection and we had very little time to prepare," she said. "Our whole team rallied together, worked long hours without complaining. To accomplish something of this magnitude was very exciting and really made the staff feel like they are part of a team that has our support."
While the facility is moving toward Joint Commission accreditation in the next 18 months, all policies, procedures, instruments and equipment are up to date. "We are a full functioning facility and a lot goes on here. We want to make sure the community knows all we have to offer, patients get good care and that we have a good referral network," said Codega. "So that the patient goes to a place that is best for their diagnosis."
Though she is excited about the direction things are heading, Codega says she still gets overwhelmed at times because there is long way still to go to get there. "We want to make sure we are paying attention to quality health initiatives in the community. To that end, starting in July we will be offering free blood pressure checks on Tuesday afternoons and are hoping to have some health fairs," she said. "We are also trying to recruit primary care doctors, update managed care networks, establish an allergy clinic and have more women's health options. Eventually we want to have satellite specialty clinics in surrounding areas, so folks do not have to drive so far for care."
Codega, who has previously worked in marketing and physician relations for Baptist Memorial Healthcare Corporation and Baptist Medical Group, says that going through the West Star Leadership program in 2016 had a big impact on her. "We saw counties that were thriving, those that were struggling and ones that had lost their healthcare facility. It made me so aware of the need to have access to healthcare," she said. "I had felt a tremendous calling and this opportunity was an answer to my prayers. My entire career prepared me for this, so in December I resigned from Baptist and started the management group here in March with my Impeli partner Blake Gowder."
Gowder and Codega head the administrative team at Riverside Community Hospital. Both have tremendous passion for small hospitals and bring a plethora of knowledge and experience that will greatly benefit Riverside Community Hospital and the community. Codega said that the outpouring of support they have received from the community has been amazing.
"It will take an army to keep hospitals in rural areas and this one is going to be a challenge. But I believe in keeping healthcare at home and I believe in this hospital," said Codega, who many in the community have come to refer to as mighty mouse. "We want to make sure we do this right and do this well. We don't plan on managing the hospital, we plan on becoming part of the community and living here."
Impeli Health Care Group, which is licensed in the states of Tennessee and Georgia was established in March 2016. It has four divisions: hospital acquisitions, management and consulting, imaging centers and healthcare technology. Decatur County Hospital is the first hospital to be acquired by the group as part of its plan to preserve healthcare in rural areas by building healthy communities.