“A Small Herd of Unicorns”: Kearny County Hospital Named a Bright Spot in National Rural Health Report

LAKIN, Kan. (August 31, 2021) — Kearny County Hospital was one of eight rural health organizations recently featured in “Bright Spots: Case Studies in Innovative Rural Healthcare,” a national report compiled by the Texas A&M University Rural & Community Health Institute, in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the T.L.L. Temple Foundation, and Episcopal Health Foundation.

By highlighting “bright spot” success stories of rural communities and institutions tackling their healthcare challenges, the report’s creators hope to inspire other communities confronting similar struggles. “For every organization gridlocked by challenges, there exists an organization that has managed to adapt and overcome,” the report stated.

“Proudly, Kearny County Hospital has made great strides to overcome issues like access to care, provider staffing, and other challenges facing rural healthcare organizations across America,” said Betty Greer, President of the hospital’s Board of Trustees.

“It’s an honor to be recognized in the report – especially among so many bright ideas from other areas – but most importantly, it’s an honor to serve as a beacon of ideas for our rural health colleagues across the country.”

The eight rural health organizations selected as “bright spots” were located across Texas, Kansas, Iowa, and North Dakota. Interviews with the organizations were conducted, data collected, and case studies developed in 2019-2020.

Kearny County Hospital: Building a Mission Culture

One key reason Kearny County Hospital was highlighted in the “Bright Spots” report was its success addressing provider shortages – using a unique mission-focused recruitment strategy. Former CEO Benjamin Anderson reported that ten years ago, the hospital’s clinic staff had to turn away 50 new patients a week due to staffing shortages. Today, they have expanded their reach to serve a 20-county region with a population of around 15,000 people. Anderson credited the shift to a targeted recruitment and retention strategy, aimed at attracting and keeping providers who were raised in a rural community or have dedicated part of their careers to missionary work. Generous vacation time and professional development opportunities helped achieve long-term dedication from new recruits.

In the report, the hospital’s CEO David Hofmeister described the providers and staff Kearny County has brought together as “a small herd of unicorns, those incredibly rare but absolutely amazing team members.”

The “Bright Spots” report also highlighted Kearny County Hospital’s success in serving refugees and undocumented immigrants who have flocked to Kearny County to work in the local meat-packing industry. The Kearny County community is rich in cultural diversity. According to the report, Kearny County Hospital serves over 30 different nationalities, and as of 2018, 13 percent of Kearny County residents were born outside the U.S. As part of its mission culture, Kearny County Hospital has hired healthcare providers who speak the languages of the patients they serve – providers who are known and trusted in the various immigrant communities.

“Hiring staff with a mission mindset lays a foundation of trust for the provider-patient relationship,” said Greer. “And that results in greater community health overall.”

According to the report, the hospital’s tactical recruitment efforts, paired with its mission culture, not only expanded Kearny County Hospital’s primary care footprint by 18 percent, but it was also good for the bottom line – decreasing dependency on local tax revenues by more than 60 percent.

A third focus of the “Bright Spots” report was maternal health and infant outcomes. Rural health systems nationwide struggle to maintain obstetric services, but Kearny County Hospital prioritized recruiting OB physicians. The report noted that hospital administrators knew that if mom was cared for, she would encourage the rest of her family to seek and maintain primary care services, in turn improving the health and wellness of the entire community.

The hospital’s efforts resulted in a 67 percent increase in obstetrics volume and a 60 percent increase in primary care paneled patients over five years.

“People from 11 counties come to Kearny for OB care,” according to Kearny County Hospital Chief of Staff Drew Miller, MD, FAAFP – strong evidence that the mission focus goes beyond staffing and recruitment efforts into a multicultural approach to care.

“Kearny County Hospital is proud of its recent accomplishments and grateful to the staff and community for their support in our ongoing efforts to provide accessible, high-quality healthcare to all of the people who rely on us,” Greer said.

To learn more about the achievements of Kearny County Hospital among other high-ranking rural health institutions, read the full report here.


About Kearny County Hospital

Kearny County Hospital is committed to providing quality, compassionate healthcare services for our community to enrich the lives of family, friends, and neighbors. The hospital was founded in 1952 and is owned and operated by the Kearny County government to provide inpatient and outpatient hospital care, emergency medical treatment, and primary care. High Plains Retirement Village, the Kearny County Home for the Aged, was founded in 1983 to provide a nursing facility, senior housing, and long-term care services. In 1990, Kearny County Hospital began operation of the Family Health Center, which provides primary healthcare in Lakin and Deerfield. For more information, visit kearnycountyhospital.com.