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South Dakota Has More Top 20 Rural Community Hospitals Than Any Other State

Mar 26, 2020 07:00AM ● By MED Magazine

South Dakota has more hospitals on this year’s National Rural Health Association Top 20 Rural Community Hospitals list than any other state. Four of the 20 hospitals are South Dakota-based. The list includes the 20 highest-ranked prospective payment system hospitals in the country based on an evaluation by the Chartis Center for Rural Health using iVantage Health Analytics’ Hospital Strength Index. 

The determining factors for the top 20 rural and community hospitals were based on eight indices: inpatient market share, outpatient market share, quality, outcomes, patient perspective, cost, charge, and financial efficiency. 

South Dakota hospitals on this year’s list include:

  • Prairie Lakes Healthcare System in Watertown

  • Brookings Health System in Brookings

  • Avera Sacred Heart Hospital in Yankton

  • Avera St. Luke’s Hospital in Aberdeen

  • Avera St. Mary’s Hospital Pierre

Avera Sacred Heart and Avera St. Luke’s both joined the list since 2019. For Prairie Lakes, an independent health system in Watertown, this was the fourth time on the Top 20 list. PLHS Pulmonologist Svien Senne says there is a unique culture in many of South Dakota’s small towns that helps to drive the quality of rural hospitals. 

“There is a culture of self-sufficiency in South Dakota, of wanting to do certain things and working hard to make sure we can,” says Senne. 

“Communities can feel like they are losing a part of their identity if they lose their local hospital. So there is a strong desire in smaller communities to maintain independence and continue to be self-sufficient so that they can continue to take care of their babies and their grandmas and grandpas.”

Hospitals like Prairie Lakes keep investing in improvements that will keep them on the NRHA’s radar. Senne says receiving recognition for high quality builds on itself, driving winning hospitals like PLHS to invest in people and technologies that will keep their name on the Top 20 list. And the cycle continues.

“For me, it gives me pride and confidence that we are doing what we need to be doing,” says Senne. “The more confidence you have, the more risk you are willing to assume. You have to innovate to stay relevant. Doing good gives you the confidence to keep doing good.”

As an example, Senne points to the fact that PLHS was willing to invest in endobronchial ultrasound bronchoscopy (EBUS) - diagnostic technology that has only been available in larger markets - when he requested it. Senne says the availability of this kind of high level diagnostics helps keep patients at PLHS for treatment. 

“When we are able to make these diagnoses here in our health system, we are much more likely to keep them here for surgery or medical or radiation oncology. It creates an entrance to our system that can really open things up for us.”

With a service area that extends from just east of Pierre into central Minnesota and includes more than 90,000 people, the ability to keep newly diagnosed patients in Watertown has significant value for PLHS.   

“Even if people have to travel an hour to get to us, they are still saving an hour and a half that it would have taken to drive to Sioux Falls,” says Dr. Senne. “It’s good for them and it’s good for us.”