Southeastern Health expects to get healthier through partnership

via The Robesonian

So what should Robeson County residents make of the news that Southeastern Health, our 65-year-old regional health provider, is looking for a partner to assist with its health-care crusade?

Southeastern Health’s leadership, including Board of Trustees Chairman Kenneth Rust and President and CEO Joann Anderson, were obvious in their delight at the prospect when sharing the news with this newspaper for a story published on Tuesday. That’s an indication, a powerful one we believe, that such a partnership is a positive.

But it’s also telling that they were so aggressive in sharing the news, not only with their employees, who were told during a mass email on Tuesday, but with the public, through a press release that we received.

It is no secret that many hospitals in rural communities are, shall we say, ailing, and that some have taken their last breath, victims of a lot of forces, but primarily reduced reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid. That North Carolina legislators have stubbornly refused to expand Medicaid, which would provide coverage for a half million residents and pour billions of federal dollars yearly into the state and to those hospitals, has only exacerbated the threat.

But Southeastern Health certainly appears robust and healthy, and has enjoyed remarkable growth in the last quarter century, both to its primary physical plant in the Tanglewood community, which can now only grow upward, but also in taking services into various communities throughout the county.

Southeastern is well-equipped to take on this nation’s top two killers, heart disease and cancer, and has been proactive in establishing a relationship with Campbell University to ensure a pipeline of physicians.

So Southeastern Health has been nimble in trying to stare down the challenges.

But it is a tough and changing industry, and only those that can stay in front of the rising tide are likely to survive. Southeastern Health’s trustees, to their credit, not only recognize the need for a partner, but are beginning that search from a position of strength, when it can call the shots, and not one of weakness, when it would be at the mercy of predators.

Rust and Anderson were unambiguous that any possible partner must meet four criteria: be a cultural fit and have a shared mission; understand rural health care; understand this county’s health challenges; and provide access to capital.

Although Southeastern Health’s statement didn’t prioritize those criteria, we have to believe that the access to capital is at or near the top, for reasons already stated. The nonprofit’s balance sheet, we are convinced, remains healthy, but the future is most certainly going to test its ability to continue to stay current as technology evolves and the way health care is delivered changes.

Southeastern Health’s trustees should be applauded for their willingness to share the health-care wheel, understanding that if they don’t, its future cannot be assured. Bringing on a partner with expertise in the industry and capital will only give Southeastern Health a firmer footing moving forward.

Southeastern Health’s vitality is essential to Lumberton, Robeson County and the region, not only in the delivery of health care, but also as a high-octane engine that drives the local economy and recruits physicians and support staff that raise our collective IQ.

Robeson County and this region would be unrecognizable without it.