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Glasgow's Aune Represents At D.C.

On May 17, U.S. Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) co-chaired a Finance Subcommittee on Health Care hearing about the importance of improving health care access in rural Montana. Senator Daines invited Frances Mahon Deaconess Hospital's (FMDH) Vice President of Strategic Programs Erin Aune to speak about rural health at the hearing.

"Rural health is a key component of America's health care. It's a greatly important issue in my own state of Montana, as more than 720,000 Montanans live in designated rural areas, that's about three quarters of population of the entire state....In frontier states like Montana, we are all too familiar with the challenges that come with living where we do, including the challenge of accessing health care," stated Daines during his opening remarks at the hearing.

At the hearing, Aune discussed how the current workforce affects the facility, getting the next generations interested in the health care field as well as transportation issues that affect patients living in rural communities.

"As a provider based Rural Health Clinic attached to a Critical Access Hospital, we have no choice but to be very strategic on how we can best serve our community and the surrounding areas," stated Aune in her testimony. "We are especially proud that we recently achieved 24/7 coverage in general surgery, OBGYN and orthopedics."

Daines asked Aune about the rotating provider model she has implemented for the Glasgow Speciality Care Clinic to achieve the 24/7 coverage in those fields so patients don't have to travel out of area for these services. "Our rotating providers, that was an organization that we found, luckily found...we'd lost our orthopedic surgeon and if we don't have that, patients have to drive 300 miles to have a hip or knee replaced so we felt that it was a critical need," explained Aune. Though they live elsewhere in the United States, flying in for their rotation, they are dedicated to rural medicine and helping their patients with any and all medical needs that arise.

"Being able to offer these services locally provides better patient outcomes, continuity of care, a better work life balance and helps prevent provider burn out. This model has worked well for those specialists, but we struggle with accommodating the behavioral health needs of our community," stated Aune.

As a way to bridge this gap, the facility has pursued telehealth options for behavioral health, pain management and maternal fetal medicine, including partnering with Intermountain Health to provide immediate tele-crisis services through the hospital's emergency room to patients that are having a behavioral health crisis. Though the service is still new, Aune stated at the hearing the partnership has been working really well.

At the hearing, Aune also discussed the facility's desire to inspire youth to follow a career in healthcare and as a result are hosting the first Med Camp for kids in middle school in order to introduce them to multiple areas of the hospital and clinic. She also discussed how transportation is a barrier to those in our community, providing examples of how when a patient needs services that FMDH can not provide, the patient needs to travel 300 miles away, which can cause a number of different stressors, including financial burden and overall patient stress. "Impacts of no-shows and cancelled appointments, resulting from high gas prices, lack of a reliable vehicle or a vehicle entirely, inability to take time off work or have a friend or family member transport them, include lapses in or delayed care, poor adherence to provider recommendations, lack of surgical follow-ups and much more, all resulting in negative health outcomes and more expensive, higher level care needs," stressed Aune.

She ended her testimony thanking the committee for inviting her to be able to share her perspectives. "I am proud to be a voice and advocate for this population. I thank the Subcommittee for their continued leadership on these critical issues and I look forward to seeing the work that we can do together for the over 60 million individuals across rural America."

Aune was one of four witnesses during the hearing, spanning from facilities in Maryland, Minnesota and North Carolina to discuss the improvement of health care. Aune was also joined by FMDH's Chief Operating Officer (COO) Kathleen Nenninger who flew in to support Aune during the testimony.


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