Ten years ago, in December 2009, the “new” Ringgold County Hospital opened its doors. With state-of-the-art technology, patient and family-friendly rooms, and a design that maximized efficiency as well as comfort, it was a proud moment for everyone involved. Gordon Winkler, Ringgold County Hospital CEO, was intimately involved with the project. “Getting this building built is my proudest accomplishment,” he said.
“We did a really good job in functional space planning. We worked hard to determine which departments should go next to each other. When you go through the building you can see it. We still have people come and tour the building who latch on to those ideas.”
That said, not everything is in the same place that it was 10 years ago. “We never guessed how many things we’d end up moving around over the years,” added Winkler. “But if you want to continue to provide the level of services that our community expects, you have to adapt.” An example is the extensive dialysis unit that was built into the original facility. Even though the service was well utilized, when the federal government changed its reimbursement strategy, it proved to be unsustainable financially for RCH. Winkler explained that the Board of the hospital had to make the difficult decision to shut it down. That decision resulted in space that was repurposed to house Senior Life Solutions, a popular mental health program for senior citizens. It also allowed the Visiting Physicians Clinic to be relocated into a larger space. Not all the changes in the past decade were made because of the facility itself. Some personnel changes have resulted in better patient care. The Emergency Room used to be staffed by outsourced physicians. “Unfortunately, we didn’t always get the right people,” said Winkler. “We had problems trying to fill the schedule. We made the shift to hire and schedule our own dedicated physicians. They all have great personalities and fit into our community. Patient satisfaction scores have gone up tremendously.” Winkler continues to look for innovative ways to meet the healthcare needs of his community. “One of the biggest challenges to rural healthcare is the declining population. Economically, we simply can’t have every kind of specialist on staff.” That’s where a shared model comes in. For example, Dr. Tabitha Wilson, a pediatrician, is shared between RCH and CHI Health Corning in Corning, IA. “By sharing Dr. Wilson with another hospital and clinics, we can keep her appointment schedule full and provide our families with a pediatric specialist. It’s a win for everyone.”
Physicians aren’t the only professionals that are difficult to find. Winkler explained that lab techs, imaging techs, and paramedics are in short supply. “We have a good relationship with Southwestern Community College. That really helps with recruiting nursing students but recruiting for all positions is a real challenge for the future.” Hands-on healthcare professionals are the face of the hospital. However, the advancement of information technology and healthcare software applications has made a huge impact on behind-the-scenes hospital operations. “We have two informaticists to handle all the information. They help with the application side of the software and keep our physicians and nurses up to speed.” The technology used around the hospital has also changed dramatically over the past 10 years. The increase in electronic medical records requires dedicated VPN lines and more electrical service. Improvements in imaging technology resulted in a 3D mammography machine. “We never know what’s next on the horizon,” said Winkler. “Our challenge is balancing the need to provide our patients with the latest technology while we continue to maintain our facility. It’s 10 years old now, we’re doing things like replacing the carpet!” Although the hospital may be at the heart of the community, it’s not an island. Winkler participates in Ringgold County’s economic development activities. “We encourage all of our employees to be involved in community activities and events. Whenever our economic development group has an industry looking at our county, healthcare and education are the top two requirements.” In 32 years at the helm of Ringgold County Hospital, Gordon Winkler has guided the organization through all kinds of challenges and change. But through it all, there’s one thing that makes it all worthwhile. “I’m reminded every day how committed our employees are to their community. They really value the opportunity to take care of their families, their friends, and their neighbors. I am so proud to be part of this team.”