PYA’s Center for Rural Health Advancement helping communities with critical component of economic development

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

In late 2021, PYA, the power behind, announced a new strategic initiative named the Center for Rural Health Advancement. As the name implies, it is focused on rural communities that often struggle to maintain access to healthcare services for their residents.

As anyone in economic development knows, access to healthcare, along with the quality of the educational system and an available trained workforce, are three critical factors in the recruitment and retention of businesses. Now, as a result of COVID-19, those more rural communities face a new, two-edged sword type of challenge. On the one hand, they can be attractive to remote workers who can live anywhere and desire a better quality of life than is available in a large city. On the other hand, to attract remote workers, rural communities must have robust internet service, access to healthcare services, and a good educational system.

For PYA, a 38-year old professional services firm founded in Knoxville and ranked consistently as one of the country’s top 20 healthcare consulting firms by Modern Healthcare, helping communities and healthcare providers respond to these sorts of needs and opportunities has been the lifeblood of the firm. Providing strategic advice to providers of all forms and sizes is how PYA has grown to serve clients in all 50 states.

Martie Ross

“The genesis of the new Center began several years ago with an RFP (request for proposal) to help a state with a rural operational improvement planning for some of its hospitals,” said Martie Ross, Managing Principal of PYA’s Kansas City Office and Director of the new Center. She joined the firm in 2012 and has been integrally involved in many innovative rural healthcare solutions including the University of Kansas’ Health Care Collaborative (UKHCC).

Fast forward to the latter part of 2021 and PYA’s relationships with rural providers has expanded westward.  As a result of this expansion, fueled in part by the firm’s strong relationship with the Montana Hospital Association, PYA has opened an office in Helena, Montana.

David McMillan

“Rural communities already face limited access to care. Hundreds of rural healthcare facilities are vulnerable to closure,” said David McMillan, PYA’s Managing Principal of Consulting Services and Chief Financial Officer. “The healthcare challenges faced by rural providers and their communities are multi-faceted. The idea of aggregating our experience and our services into the Center quickly took on a life of its own.”

Both the new office – PYA’s sixth – and the new Center were announced on November 18 which was “National Rural Health Day.” Other PYA offices include its Knoxville headquarters plus Atlanta, Kansas City, Nashville and Tampa.

As Ross explained to us recently, to improve rural healthcare, providers must first understand the patient populations with which they are dealing. That involves the application of data analytics to understand what services are being delivered locally and where patients are going to receive services not available within a community. It also involves understanding the changing nature of the patient population in terms of healthcare needs.

“Our mission is to help providers pursue data-driven and locally-informed transformation to preserve access to high quality services and to connect the (rural) community to the broader care continuum,” she says. “We understand rural is not small urban; rural providers face unique challenges demanding customized solutions.”

The PYA Center for Rural Advancement has a full range of practical, rural-specific solutions focused on four foundations of long-term sustainability. They are:

  • Community engagement – Understanding and prioritizing community needs, aligning with community organizations, building and maintaining trust with local residents, enhancing access to affordable primary care services, and maintaining strong governance and the leadership team.
  • Clinical excellence – Engaging in service line planning and execution, pursuing collaborative relationship and provider alignment, and securing an adequate workforce.
  • Financial stability – Gaining access to needed capital, optimizing revenue cycle operations, making purposeful investments in information technology (IT), and positioning value-based contracting.
  • Regulatory compliance – Understanding and implementing new regulatory requirements, ensuring IT security, and preparing for and responding to survey findings.

The previously referenced UKHCC concept was conceptualized by PYA for the University of Kansas Health System (UKHS), and UKHS subsequently was awarded a four-year $12.5 million “Health Care Innovation Award” from the federal Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation. The initiative brought the power of academic medicine to 76 participating providers across 69 counties in Kansas.

In addition to Ross, who leads and Center and serves rural providers with her decades long experience in strategic planning PYA’s initial core team for the Center is drawn from many of the firm’s service lines. They include Merle Glasgow (strategic relationships), Jason Hardin (business intelligence), Jane Jerzak (financial planning and payer relations), Barry Mathis (information technology), Mike Nichols (cost reporting and reimbursement), Shannon Sumner (regulatory compliance), and Traci Waugh (operations and quality improvement).

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