Rural health-care professionals sharpen their skills

November 17, 2008

University Park, Pa. — Twenty-four percent of Pennsylvania’s 12.3 million residents live in small, rural towns. These residents rely on their community hospitals for emergency medical care.

“The hospital is the anchor of health care in any rural community,” said Lisa Davis, director of the Pennsylvania Office of Rural Health. “Keeping these hospitals viable is absolutely essential.”

In Pennsylvania, there are 13 rural facilities with 25 or fewer beds — designated by the federal government as Critical Access Hospitals (CAH). A major challenge for these hospitals is recruiting and retaining qualified individuals for clinical and administrative positions. To better learn their needs, the Office of Rural Health conducted a survey of Pennsylvania’s CAHs, with the help of Penn State Outreach’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD).

Janetta DeOnna of the OEWD found, among other things, that staff shortages in nursing and other clinical departments, as well as limited career paths, make “creating a culture that will entice new professionals to stay, problematic."

The response: A new academy is helping to improve the supervisory and management skills of more than 100 participants from rural hospitals, emergency medical services units and health-care providers. The Office of Rural Health, OEWD, and another Outreach unit, Management Development Programs and Services, developed the initiative, with funding from the Outreach Thematic Initiative Fund and the federal Medicare Rural Hospital Flexibility Grant Program.

Launched in 2007 at three Penn State sites (Altoona, DuBois and Williamsport), a team-based performance improvement project is a key component of the training.

“The goal is to take knowledge they gain in the academy, create a project that would benefit their hospital and share it with other hospitals,” explained Lawrence Baronner of the Office of Rural Health. Fifteen teams presented their projects during the 2008 Pennsylvania Rural Health Conference held in June at Penn State.

Academy participant Joanie Delovich and her team at Troy Community Hospital in northeastern Pennsylvania created an interfacility transfer form to share medical information about a patient when transferring that patient within the hospital or to another facility. “It significantly helps us improve communication,” said Delovich, director of nursing. Other Pennsylvania hospitals also are adopting the form.

Webinars gave participants hands-on experience with technology, another need identified in the survey, said Maureen Dodson of Management Development.

A second academy began this fall; a rural nurse leadership enrichment program is planned for the spring. For more information, contact the Office of Rural Health at (814) 863-8214.

This article is from the fall issue of Penn State Outreach magazine. Go to to view the magazine online.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009