WisBusiness: Gundersen Health System and Thomas USAF discuss key roles in Wisconsin

WisBusiness: Gundersen Health System and Thomas USAF discuss key roles in Wisconsin

Gundersen Health System has been relying more on telehealth services amid the pandemic as it seeks to broadly improve community health.

Nathan Franklin, director of external affairs for Gundersen Health System, explained the system’s approach to providing care as part of the “Lighting the Way for Rural Prosperity” event yesterday.

Franklin described the system’s three-pronged mission of providing quality health care, improving community health and wellness and reducing the financial burden of health care. He noted telehealth plays a role in that effort by reducing the time involved getting to a health care provider.

“It’s a huge initiative we’re working on; we’ve been working on it for some time,” Franklin said. “There’s always been limitations, and the pandemic kind of blew the door off some of those limitations and made it necessary.”

In 2019, about 0.2 percent of Gundersen’s appointments were done through telehealth. That number jumped to 30 percent during the peak of the pandemic, and has held at about 10 or 15 percent since then, Franklin said.

Aside from telehealth, he said Gundersen has been developing wellness programs, housing initiatives, healthy food programs and other efforts.

“The theme there is a deeper, more holistic approach to our neighbors, and our neighborhoods and communities across our upper Midwest service area,” he said. “It’s not just a patient sitting with a doctor. It’s a patient having the resources to maybe not have to go see that doctor in the first place.”

Also during the rural prosperity event, Thomas USAF Group President and CEO Thomas Kimsey emphasized the key role that hospitals play in rural communities.

The group manages a portfolio of about $100 million in loans annually, with a focus on the Small Business Administration and United States Department of Agriculture lending space. Thomas USAF Group is currently involved with a project in Lafayette County where a hospital is being replaced with an updated facility.

“A perfect example of how the programs are used, specifically here in Wisconsin, of how you can go into the community, build a new replacement hospital, a new modern hospital that’s so desperately needed in many communities across rural America,” he said.

Without a local hospital that’s able to address the health needs of rural residents, Kimsey said communities quickly start to see an exodus of jobs and young professionals, leading to a decline of the community overall.

“Health care is critical, and unfortunately a tremendous amount of hospitals close across this country,” he said. “We’ve seen a tremendous amount in Georgia, in Texas, you may have seen some here as well. But once that goes, there goes your community.”