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Community hospitals are a pillar of cities and towns across the nation and have been resilient over the past several years, especially during the pandemic.

On Oct. 12, community hospital executives and industry leaders participated in the Becker’s Healthcare Community Hospitals Virtual Forum to discuss topics ranging from their biggest challenges and lessons learned during the pandemic to how they’re planning for the future.

Here are six takeaways from the event.

1. The top worries of community hospitals are declining reimbursement and volumes. Many executives from community hospitals, especially in rural areas, are frustrated with commercial insurers incentivizing patients to travel out of their hometowns to larger cities to receive care. Others are grappling with volume losses, but don’t truly know if they’re due to migration of care to outpatient settings or a dwindling population. Regardless, community hospitals everywhere are asking themselves: How do we remain relevant?

2. Telehealth and data analytics capabilities took a big leap during the pandemic and virtual care will open many doors for community hospitals going forward. As long as reimbursement remains for telehealth, remote patient monitoring and virtual care, community hospitals will be able to expand access to healthcare across large areas. However, community hospitals are still encouraging people who need in-person care to go to the hospital and not wait until conditions worsen.

3. Two key challenges community hospital leaders expect to face over the next year are maintaining their organization’s financial viability and navigating continued uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic. Leaders also identified clinician recruitment efforts, EHR data reporting and telehealth expansion as additional priorities for community hospitals.

4. Without strong, trusting relationships between rural hospitals and the communities they serve, very little progress toward strategic goals can be made. Without those relationships, small communities end up competing for finite resources. Leaders have an obligation to the community to coordinate care within the region, so services are affordable, accessible and high quality.

5. Culture is crucial to healthcare organizations and affects nearly every aspect of them. To build great culture, hospital executives should be present and communicate daily with colleagues. Simply asking team members how they’re doing can go a long way.

6. The key to a successful CNO-CFO-CIO partnership first relies on a strong foundation of trust and support among the executive team. The CNO, CFO and CIO must also work across their roles to ensure they support all clinical, financial and technological priorities. While leaders may have healthy disagreements behind closed doors, they must always provide a single, unified message to the organization. And lastly, they must also find the small moments of joy or humor during tough times to help lift each other up and stay motivated.

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