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Kathleen Hoeft to lead AHA's Small or Rural Governing Council

Kathleen Hoeft, administrator and CEO of Ashley (ND) Medical Center, has been tapped to lead the American Hospital Association's Section for Small or Rural Hospitals in 2008. The 22-member governing council represents small or rural hospitals in the AHA's policy process and member service initiatives. Hoeft, who has been at Ashley Medical since 1998, is no stranger to advocating for a community's health needs at the state and federal government level.

Hoeft has served on the AHA's Small and Rural Hospitals Governing Council since 2003, during which she was a member of the AHA's Small/Rural IT Educational Advisory Group. She is currently a member of the American College of Healthcare Executives, the North Dakota Long Term Care Association, the North Dakota Healthcare Association, and the American Healthcare Association. She has also worked with the North Dakota State College of Science to establish a licensed practical nurse program.

HealthLeaders Media recently caught up with Hoeft to discuss her goals in her new position, the challenges facing smaller hospitals today, and how rural hospitals can find their voice on a national level.

Health Leaders Media: What do you think about being named to chair the AHA's Section for Small or Rural Hospitals in 2008?

Kathleen Hoeft: I think it's a great honor and a great privilege to chair the governing council of the section. It is an opportunity given to me by my colleagues on the governing council, and I appreciate their confidence in my leadership. I am looking forward to a very productive year.

HealthLeaders: Is it a position you actively sought?

Hoeft: Actually, I had never considered even running for a governing council position until the North Dakota Hospital Association encouraged me to do so. So when the chair for the AHA's Section for Small or Rural Hospitals announcement was made, I was pleased, humbled, and very surprised.

HealthLeaders: What are your goals for 2008?

Hoeft: The governing council serves as an advisory committee to the AHA; we are a sounding board for policy priorities and strategic planning. The emphasis is on representation, advocacy, and federal health policy and how it affects hospitals and our ability to care for our community's health needs. Our goal is to communicate the perspective of the rural hospital constituency so that it is included in the overall AHA strategy.

HealthLeaders: What do you think is the biggest issue or challenge facing small or rural hospitals?

Hoeft: The biggest challenge this year for small or rural hospitals is the same challenge we face every year--that is to do more with less by providing more services for patients with less reimbursement. Through the AHA, we will continue to advocate on behalf of our hospitals for equitable reimbursement, a reasonable regulatory framework, and recognition of the important role rural hospitals play in the delivery of quality care to some of the America's most vulnerable residents.

HealthLeaders: How do you think your experience as CEO at a community hospital will help you as chair of the Section for Small or Rural Hospitals?

Hoeft: My experience as a CEO at a community hospital is invaluable. For a number of years, I worked as an RN in a small rural hospital, where I worked in all the departments from OB to ER and any other place where help was needed. As a nursing home administrator of a 201-bed facility, I have dealt with financial, union, and reimbursement issues. Next, I did consulting in administration and nursing in California. Now, as CEO of a critical-access hospital, I have worked with state and federal agencies in developing support for rural facilities.

My experience and that of my colleagues on the governing council is directly related to the issues and policies discussed by the AHA and will be an important part of the association's policy and strategy. Whether it is healthcare reform or the hospital advocacy agenda, we present a perspective that is essential to policy development and implementation.

HealthLeaders: Do you think it is important that smaller, rural hospitals have a voice on the national level?

Hoeft:I think it is vitally important. Out of the 5,747 U.S. registered hospitals, there are 2,001 rural community hospitals, and 1,292 of the rural community hospitals are critical-access hospitals. Rural hospitals serve a large percentage of Medicare patients in some very rural areas. Without many of the CAHs throughout America, many of the elderly patients and at risk patients would receive only limited or nonexistent care.

HealthLeaders: How do you plan to further the voice of small and rural hospitals?

Hoeft: Because the governing council is a group of individuals from across the country, together we will work to see that the interests of small and rural hospitals are represented. The council meets three times each year to provide input into the policy priorities of the AHA Board and to offer our perspective on emerging issues for them to consider.

We have an opportunity to meet with our members of Congress to communicate the needs of rural hospitals and help them better understand the special role we have in advancing the delivery of care and improving the health of rural Americans. We can raise awareness of the unique needs of small or rural hospitals and how federal policy must address these needs so that rural Americans have access to the best quality of care our nation has to offer.


Ben Cole is associate editor with HealthLeaders Online News. He can be reached at bcole@healthleadersmedia.com.