Rusk County Memorial Hospital Recognized Nationally for Innovation in Healthcare

May 4, 2017

Sometimes, big ideas come from small places.

And in this case, that place is Ladysmith, which is now the national centerpiece of innovation in rural healthcare, thanks to Rusk County Memorial Hospital (RCMH) CEO Charisse Oland, the RCMH Medical Staff, and the strategic vision of the hospital’s board of trustees.

A barrage of national media attention first started when Oland presented last year at the National Rural Healthcare Leadership Conference in Arizona.  The topic – addressing doctor shortages in rural areas – was a subject near and dear to the healthcare leaders attending from around the country.  After all, just like in other small towns, Ladysmith faced the challenge of attracting quality doctors, and creating an environment that encouraged them to live and stay in the community.

The idea behind RCMH’s success is centered around its forward-thinking strategy of employing advance practice nurses to provide care in the hospital setting to complement the care of their primary care provider. The program allows patients to receive even more individualized care in the hospital, while allowing providers to spend more dedicated time in the clinic with their patients. 

Oland knew from the packed convention hall and swarm of questions that she had a popular topic.  Attendees stayed glued to their seats, despite the temptation of stepping outside to enjoy the beautiful 75-degree Phoenix sunshine in February.  But what she didn’t know, ever since that day, was that her phone would be ringing off the hook from healthcare leaders from around the country to learn more.

One such leader who took immediate notice was Rick Pollack, President of the American Hospital Association.  He knew his members were seeking answers to the ongoing dilemma of doctor shortages in rural communities, and finally, there was a solution with national implications.  He built upon the findings of Oland, the RCMH Board of Trustees and the hospital’s leadership team, proclaiming that the model used by RCMH with advanced practice nurses as hospitalists, or medical providers who see patients in the hospital, was the very definition of healthcare innovation, and an answer to addressing the issue of doctor shortages. The Association of American Medical Colleges projects that the United States will face a shortfall of 46,000 to 90,000 physicians by 2025.  The physician shortage remains especially problematic in rural areas, where more than 20 percent of the U.S. population resides but only 10 percent of physicians practice, according to a position paper by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).

Fortunately, facing this crisis head on, big ideas indeed are coming from small places, and national healthcare leaders are laser focused on Ladysmith, Wisconsin. In fact, just in the past month, RCMH’s renowned program has resulted in comprehensive articles from national media such as The American Hospital Association’s Trustee Magazine, Hospital & Health Networks, Today’s Hospitalist, Commonwealth Fund and While these may not be publications that are on the nightstands of the average consumer, they are the premier industry media that shape and guide the minds of national healthcare leaders, says Oland.

“Sure, the thought that we’ve created a national buzz is exciting, but the real thrill is seeing how we’ve already advanced healthcare in our community,” says Oland.  “By attracting new physicians and increasing our volumes overall, we’ve positioned our hospital for generations to come.  It’s very rewarding to be a part of this transformation.”

“The advanced practice nurses and the patients love the time being devoted to patient care.  Every extra minute we can spend with a patient is one step closer to improving his or her health and well-being.  We’re available when our patients need us, not just when it’s convenient for us,” says Oland. “The plan is definitely working.”

In fact, in just the first year of the program, two primary care doctors moved into the community, in large part contributing to Rusk’s incredible turnaround of increasing its inpatient admissions by 23% and patient satisfaction by 13% in two years.  Oland believes this is just the beginning of the progress, as success breeds success, and RCMH’s progress has allowed its team to recruit additional doctors to serve area residents.

“Caring for patients locally is the ideal form of care and it’s a benefit for our local economy.  The more patients who receive care locally, the more employees we hire, and the more families we serve all result in more business that stays here in our communities.  Healthcare is one of the key drivers in our community, and we’re flattered that others around the county have seen our success and are looking to emulate our approach.  We have a long way to go, but it’s humbling to see the progress we’re making.”

This initiative is one part of a complex plan created in 2013 by the Hospital Board of Trustees, RCMH leadership, the County Supervisors, and other strategic partners to ensure that the community continues to have access to local care. To carry out this plan, it takes the collaboration of physicians, employees, hospital leaders, and local, state and national government, Oland says.  In fact, working in tandem with the Wisconsin Hospital Association, Wisconsin state legislators have proposed a package to provide support for local healthcare.  The plan, known as the Rural Wisconsin Initiative, includes programs to support economic development, education, broadband expansion and workforce training.  Oland and her team have been instrumental in affecting this change locally and nationally.