Sanford Health reimagines rural health delivery

Conversations at rural health summit seek to empower industry and improve care

Sanford President and CEO Bill Gassen opens the rural health summit on stage

It was a first of its kind gathering of clinicians, health industry leaders, bipartisan policymakers and advocates in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for dialogue around improving care access, reducing costs, and closing disparities in rural and underserved communities.

Sanford Health hosted the Summit on the Future of Rural Health Care Aug. 23 to engage and empower groups to help shape the future of care delivery as two-thirds of its 1.5 million patient population is rural.

“This is an event we’ve convened to work together and solve the biggest challenge in health care, specifically the challenges we face in rural America,” President and CEO Bill Gassen said.

Read: Sanford to convene national rural health care summit

In addition to those attending in person, more than 450 people joined the summit via livestream, including national media.

The full video recording from the Summit on the Future of Rural Health Care is available online.

Redefining rural health

Industry leaders and advocates from across the country served as panelists and moderators representing organizations like Microsoft Health, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid ​Services (CMS), Medtronic, Salesforce, American Medical Association (AMA) and American Medical Group Association (AMGA) – among others.

“When I saw the direction that Sanford was going with developing this rural health initiative, I got so excited,” Sheri Dodd said.

Dodd is vice president and general manager of Medtronic Care Management Services.

“I grew up in Montana and Idaho, so I understand rural health care and I know how difficult it is to access health care from a rural community,” she added.

Sanford Health clinicians spoke to the unique challenges and opportunities of providing care to rural patients in a video shown at the Summit

Watch video: ‘Voices from the front lines’

Dr. David Gifford is the chief medical officer of the American Health Care Association, working with nursing homes and assisted living facilities nationwide, including Good Samaritan Society, an affiliate of Sanford Health.

“This is a groundbreaking opportunity to change the way we deliver health care in rural America,” Dr. Gifford said. “The Good Samaritan Society is mission-driven, innovative and really cares about reaching out to the rural community. So to know their leaders are behind this initiative means it’s going to work.”

The rise of telehealth, technology

Panelists explored how digital tools and data with value-based models can shape the future of that delivery.

Eric Larsen, president of the Advisory Board Company, called this a “renaissance moment” in digital history.

“We need to wake up and think about new models and solutions to take care of everybody,” said Dr. Jim Weinstein, who serves as senior vice president of Microsoft Health. “I’m so inspired by rural health.”

One silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic, as Salesforce Chief Medical Officer Dr. Geeta Nayyar suggested, is the embracing of digital technology and telehealth by consumers, doctors and policymakers.

“We’re seeing this amazing opportunity to keep that door open and continue to serve patients where they are,” Dr. Nayyar said. “I think Sanford’s approach to bring all of those together, that is the future of health care and it’s how we work smarter, not just harder.”

Sen. Tina Smith (D-M.N.) and Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) discussed their work in the U.S. Congress to strengthen broadband access and prioritize mental health for the millions who can’t access hospitals.

“Understanding business, medicine and technology is the future,” Dr. Nayyar added.

Breaking ground on the future

The day concluded with a historic groundbreaking as Sanford Health looks to the future of rural care and its state-of-the-art Virtual Care Center.

In 2021, the organization announced a landmark $350 million initiative, thanks in large part to a gift by philanthropist T. Denny Sanford, to transform health care for rural and underserved communities.

Virtual care serves a significant need and purpose as Sanford Health delivers care across 250,000 square miles with 60% of patients living in rural areas.

Read: Sanford breaks ground on transformative virtual care center

The 60,000-square-foot facility will serve as the hub for a network of virtual clinics and telehealth services. The facility is expected to open in 2024.

Sanford Health and community leaders break ground on the Sanford Virtual Care Center, Aug. 23, 2022, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Sanford Health and community leaders break ground on the Sanford Virtual Care Center, Aug. 23, 2022, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Photo by Don McLeer, Sanford Health

The Sanford Virtual Care Center will feature dedicated clinician workspaces equipped with the latest telemedicine technology to offer a variety of services, including on-demand urgent care, behavioral health care and primary care. The building will also house innovation, education and research initiatives to advance digital health care and workforce solutions for the future.

Sanford’s President of Virtual Care Brad Schipper called this a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for health care.”

“We’re trying to partner education with innovation with clinical service delivery in a way that we’re reimagining what nobody else has done,” Schipper said.

“The fact that Sanford wants to take this on – in a very public and intentional way – will set the bar for what rural care delivery will look like in the future particularly with a virtual care foundation,” Dodd said.

Learn more about Sanford Virtual Care.

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