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6 Ways Independent Hospitals can get Stronger Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic 

by Ken Marlow

Published: September, 2020

Submission: September, 2020


The impact of COVID-19 and the economic downturn has pressured independent hospitals, rural hospitals and smaller health systems in particular. Despite the immense challenges, independent facilities and their Boards should take this time to best position for the near- and long-term.

In light of this, Waller partnered with Kaufman Hall to develop a guide for healthcare leaders, The Health System Growth Imperative: Charting Opportunities During the Pandemic and Beyond. Here are some practical tactics and recommendations from the report for charting your future course.

Remember that there is a future beyond the immediacy of the pandemic.

Prioritize your organization’s strategic planning. This can often be done in the form of a special retreat or a series of education sessions that convenes the Board and members of the C-Suite for a focused, holistic and honest discussion on the organization’s future.

Engage outside experts to guide you.

Outside advisors can provide critical perspective on macro trends, competitor dynamics and issues that are specific to your unique market. They can also provide an independent view of the future state of the organization. Consider both business and legal issues so that you can be prepared for potential unforeseen risks down the road.

Board members in particular will want to ensure that they have satisfied their duty of care when making significant decisions, such as the decision to pursue M&A activity or a partnership, for their organizations. That means engaging M&A advisors, strategic consultants and financial consultants to ensure the hospital or health system is receiving fair value for its assets or investment in the partnership and guide the transaction process on an efficient and effective track. The sooner these advisors are brought to the table, the stronger your chances of a favorable outcome.

Define your goals and assess your organization’s ability to meet (and exceed) these goals.

Consultants can guide you through this process, which can often involve a baseline projection and model analysis and other similar internal assessments. Remind your Board that this level of understanding is a vital aspect of their fiduciary duties. This is also a good time to have tough conversations regarding the reality for many independent hospitals that continued independence comes at the cost of diminished quality of care, services and expertise, or in some cases, closure.

As boards of trustees and management teams consider a strategic transaction, they should have a clear vision of their goals in connection with the transaction. In addition, they should make a list of the key drivers for the transaction and rank the importance of each factor. For example, such drivers could include:

  • Congruence and expansion of mission
  • Access to capital
  • Potential payor rate lift
  • Expansion of patient population and service lines
  • Greater integration for a fully integrated health system

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