At Winona Health, Franken sees a model for rural health care | Local

During a stop in Winona on Friday, U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., praised Winona Health’s recent efforts to overhaul health care distribution in the area, saying the new, patient-centered model is the way of the future for small-town providers.

“On the way over here, I was reading about how many times Winona Health has been recognized for the stuff they’ve been doing,” he said. “They’re engaging with patients in a way that addresses larger problems. They seem ahead of the curve on opioids. And they’ve cut their number of emergency visits by 85 percent. That’s amazing.”

At Winona Health, Franken spoke with hospital administrators and employees, as well as patients and community members, about everything from addiction services to funding streams.

The talk rarely strayed, however, from the topic of rural health care: how to provide it, and why some community hospitals too often fall short.

Rachelle Schultz, president and CEO of Winona Health, said hospitals like hers would benefit from additional funding for programs that are often free for patients. This includes Winona Health’s Community Care Network, which provides weekly home treatment for residents with chronic pain.

“We feel like we’re doing the right thing, but we’re not getting paid for our services,” Schultz said. “We’d like to see a reform of the payment models. There need to be more doors open for innovation.”

Franken, who co-chairs the Rural Health Caucus in the Senate, said he feels much the same way — but that Tom Price, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, isn’t likely to go for it.

“Hospitals should do what Winona Health is doing, and they should be rewarded for it,” Franken said. “We need to focus on payment reform.”

Before he left Winona Health for another stop, Franken heard firsthand how the Community Care Network has changed lives for the better.

Jean Czaplewski said the network helped her overcome a lingering sadness she felt after selling her home of 50 years, and moving into a one-bedroom apartment at a senior living facility.

Her health coach through the network, Chelsea Reilly, comes over once a week, and the two women talk or go out to eat together.

“I didn’t realize how it would affect me,” Czaplewski said about the move, lamenting the loss not of her home or her garden — but of all the things she kept there. “I miss my stuff. I miss all the windows I had at my house.

“It’s been nice to have someone to talk to, someone who won’t tell me that I can’t do this or can’t do that. I’ve liked both of my health coaches. It’s been really nice.”

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