Telehealth in a Small City & A Healthcare Recruiting Staff of 1

An interview with Allison Wenger of Madison Health

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Madison Health is a small hospital located in London, Ohio — a rural town located around 25miles southwest of Columbus with a population of just under 10,000 people.

Allison Wenger, formerly a television producer for a local news outlet, is now the primary andspecialty care clinical coordinator for Madison Health.

She talked recently about working in a small hospital and how Madison Health has respondedto patients who prefer in-person over virtual, and what she’s learned about being a recruitingdepartment of 1.

Allison spoke during an interview with Health Carousel, which provides world-class healthcarestaffing and workforce solutions designed to improve lives and make healthcare work better.


The hospital has been here since 1962 and I've worked here for the past threeyears. I love Madison Health, because it's just that warm feeling you get when you walk in here. People say hi to you in the hall. We're big enough to do a lotof great things, but we're small enough that people know everybody and they want to know about everybody. And then I think the patients really appreciate that. We have a lot of really caring providers here, and we are able to do a lot of things that the big hospitals do, but people don't feel like a number.

I spent almost 15 years as a television producer in local news. And so I really saw the gamut of the happy and the sad parts of life with the different stories that I would cover.

I had worked in a place where it was my job to find out about the inspiring stories and studies and things going on at several of the health organizations that we represented. And then I took that and pitched it to the media. And that was my first taste in healthcare. I got a chance to interview doctors and askthem questions.

I was a ghostwriter for several doctors, for several publications. And I thought,you know what? This is the good stuff. This is the stuff people want to hear.And so I really, you know, took that to heart and said, I'm tired of the robberies and the shootings and the bad and crazy news. I want to tell the good stuff, I want to be there for what everybody has — that’s health.

And so that's why I kind of looked into what can I do in health care that would take my background and be able to make a difference in healthcare.


As urban hospitals reached their capacity in the pandemic, rural hospitals had a real opportunity to become part of the solution.

While many urban health centers were in need of personnel and resources, rural hospitals had been finding themselves with excess workforce and capacity, further increased by the mandate to postpone non-urgent services such as elective surgeries.


Madison Health as a whole is about 80% outpatient. We did see those shutdowns of elective cases. That was huge for us. And even in our specialty care department, it was a really hard thing to kind of tackle like, where are we in what? And we continue with consults and other appointments. If you can't do the surgery, what can you put off that type of thing?

And so I think we did have to kind of pivot a little bit to quickly reevaluate, you know, who are we bringing in the office? Who are we not bringing in? Who are we missing because they don't have access to that telehealth option, or because they don't want to have access to it? And we really have to take a look at that where we really didn't have to deal with that before because really everybody was coming into the office.

In specialty care, especially, we had a lot of specialists say to us, ‘Well, I'm not in the OR, so maybe I can go meet with some of the other providers.’ We have just kind of a check in and say, ‘Hey, you know, did you know I do x procedure? Or did you know that I offer such and such in the clinic?’ And I think that, education piece was helpful because they were able to connect with their peers and their colleagues down the hall and say: “Don't forget we're over here.

So, I think that was helpful for the providers.

It's definitely made us look at our status quo. And I think what is unique for us is that being in a rural setting, in a rural community — we've always said, we're small, but we like to think big. And I think this allowed us to do that and to show others and show patients and the community members that we can do it just like the big guys do. You know, we are bigger than just this small hospital. And we can offer a lot more and I think that's been helpful for us to kind of push us forward and prove that rather than just sort of say it.


As the rise of Telehealth continues around the country, what we’re not hearing about it are those places or communities that are not seeing the same adoption rates as larger markets. Smaller hospitals in rural communities like Madison Health have been experiencing different results as it relates to telehealth and telemedicine adoption.

But, that’s not the only point of difference for Madison Health. They have also seen a general rise in the proactive interest of health from their patients. This is something that health administrator’s like Allison are extremely encouraged by.


We started doing mostly telehealth that spring of 2020, where a lot of places you know, when they shut down elective surgeries and other cases, and we moved to a telehealth model for about a three [or] four month time period. And really what we found was that, because of our population here, it's a little bit more rural, it's a little bit maybe not as technologically advanced, you know.

Overall, the patients really want to see their doctor or their nurse practitioner, they like that relationship they have with them. And so they really didn't like telehealth. And so we quickly moved back into an in person model, and said, You know, we're only going to reserve those telehealth visits for people who may have COVID-19 symptoms.

I think that overall, it's just been inspiring that people have really taken a moment to pause, and talk about their health and look at what's going on in their lives, and still try to maintain some normalcy by coming to the doctor's office. And, you know, we've had several people who have said, you know, what, after reevaluating a lot of my priorities, because I've been home more often, or you know, I'm encouraged that I want to get something checked out. They're making appointments with us, and they're coming in, and they're still saying, like, I'm taking advantage of the time I have, and the effort that I can put in right now to improve my health.


When it comes to staffing and recruitment, Madison Health continues to be in a unique position. One that Health Carousel really understands.


I think the biggest thing for us is that we have a very unique partnership. So we are an independent hospital. We own about 60% of our hospital. The other 40% is split between two health systems in Central Ohio. So we have an alliance partnership with the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center,and also Mount Carmel Health Partners. And that creates a little bit of a challenge in terms of credentialing. Not everybody has a black and white situation if you get your privileges and medicine, health and you're done. Some of our physicians are hired through Ohio State, some of them are hired through Mount Carmel, some of them are just Madison health, some of them are all free.

I think navigating those hoops and those challenges in the unique specialties, is really kind of the biggest and most pressing challenge that we deal with.

As someone who's been in recruiting, I mean, we're small. We don't have a recruiting department. I'm basically it. My boss helps out. But you know, I'm pretty much the first stop. I get a lot of phone calls. I get a lot of emails from a lot of different groups around the country, hey, I have this physician, hey, I have this group. And it was really the phone call that I had with Health Carousel where I just felt like it was real, it was not pushy, it was not this, you know, ‘I have 10 CVs, and I need to just send them your way and then we'll move on.’ They wanted to get to know Madison Health. They wanted to know what we needed and what we wanted.

You do get better the more interviews you do, you know. I've done a lot of phone interviews and now Zoom interviews, and you do develop that second sense of, ‘Hmm, I just don't know that this person really will fit into our culture. ’You know, really imagine how we really, really value that -- not that we don't look at their background and their credentials in terms of what they can bring for experience. But you know, it's almost like a 50%: They have to fit in personality wise for our culture.

Because our patients are very loyal to Madison Health, and they're not going to want some, you know, somebody who's going to be here for just a short time and, and then they leave but hate that inconsistency. They want somebody who's gonna come here who's gonna love it and who's gonna stay.

It's been nice, because once we go through the work of identifying the candidates, and we get them here, I would say probably 80 to 90% of the people walk away and say, Wow, that's a really great place. And they got a really great setup. And so I think that's really nice that then it's up to us to decide if we want that candidate or not. And it's not ‘Oh, they didn't like us.’


Just as Madison Health and other rural hospitals have weathered the storm and searched for the silver lining, Allison has found that perspective on a personal level as well.


Sometimes, you know, we all measure success based on how much we accomplish, and how much you fixed or that type of thing. But I think it's that reminder of, even though you're a Type A personality, and you want to just be accountable for everything, to just say, you know what? That's okay. If I get up tomorrow, that's okay. It's not the end of the world. And I'll prioritize, and I will make the things happen that I need to happen, and we'll get to everything else later.

I had a baby in December of 2019. And I was on maternity leave really, when all of this started, or when it was kind of ramping up. And I remember, it was about a Thursday or Friday before I was supposed to return. I remember talking to my boss, and I said, you know, hey, I'm going to come back in on Monday, and we were talking about my return to work. And she said, honestly, you know, we're sending people home, we're having people work from home. And I said, Oh, okay, well, I can do that, you know, my job allows me to do that. But I need to come in for one day, just because I've been off for three months, and I don't even know what to work on. I need to get back in for at least one day and get to my office. So I did, I came in one day. It was in the middle of March, and I got my stuff and made sure I had everything I needed.

And then I got to work from home for gosh, it was really until about August of 2020. And my daughter was home. And so you know, that was a better me because I didn't have to send her to daycare. I didn't have to leave her in the morning to come to work. I got to have her, you know, lay around and roll around on the floor while mommy was working. So, that was a huge gift to me to be able to have my baby there with me.

This episode of The Workforce Solution has been an interview with Allison Wenger from Madison Health.

The Workforce Solution is a storytelling series brought to you by Health Carousel, a world-class healthcare staffing and workforce solutions company designed to improve lives and make healthcare work better.