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Plumas District Hospital named a Rural Center of Excellence

U.C. Davis Health has named Plumas District Hospital as its newest Rural Center of Excellence.

The special designation recognizes the Quincy-based health provider for becoming a training site for U.C. Davis medical students and for its emphasis on quality clinical care, especially in areas such as maternity services, medical training and performance improvement.

“U.C. Davis established its Rural Centers of Excellence program to help advance the delivery of health care for patients in rural areas and to create pathways that will encourage more physicians to practice in rural communities,” said David Lubarsky, CEO of U.C. Davis Health and vice chancellor for Human Health Sciences at U.C. Davis. “Our program creates collaborative partnerships with community providers like Plumas District Hospital, with the goal of improving clinical care access for patients in rural areas and reducing health disparities.”

Lubarsky noted that small, rural communities like Quincy typically lack the full spectrum of medical services that urban areas enjoy. In California, 20 percent of the population lives in rural communities, but only 9 percent of state’s physicians practice in these areas. Having enough primary care clinicians to meet local needs has long been a challenge, and access to specialty care — from psychiatry and infectious disease to cardiology or dermatology — can be even more difficult, time-consuming and costly for rural residents.

Rural Center of Excellence requirements

A Rural Center of Excellence designation requires that a hospital be accredited by the Joint Commission (or the equivalent) and meet a rigorous set of criteria that involves clinical care, education and training, and research. Selected hospitals must be using innovative clinical approaches, such as telemedicine, to provide access to quality health care services. It also has to provide educational opportunities that create a “lifelong learning” environment and help train the next generation of clinicians.

A Rural Center of Excellence provider is also obligated to encourage participation in health care research to help advance clinical care and health.

“This achievement demonstrates the commitment of our medical community, hospital staff and board of directors to continue to provide high quality patient care for the residents of Plumas County,” said JoDee Tittle, the hospital’s chief executive officer.

Jeff Kepple, who served as the CEO of PDH prior to Tittle, and was a medical director and family practice physician for 20 years, played an integral role in the hospital’s achievement.

“We’re honored to have achieved Rural Center of Excellence status,” said Kepple. “It is a fulfillment of our vision to be the community’s first choice for health care, while growing as a rural teaching institution and center of excellence. Partnering with U.C. Davis Health is really a national model for how a rural hospital can flourish through quality-driven care, while simultaneously training the next generation of rural doctors and providers. Designation not only formalizes and strengthens our relationship with U.C. Davis, but also highlights our long-standing efforts to provide outstanding care despite our remote location and limited resources.”

Medical education opportunities focused on rural health

PDH clinical education component, for example, is designed to increase the number of primary care physicians who will practice in rural areas and help address the health care disparities that residents face when living beyond major urban areas. U.C. Davis School of Medicine students do multi-week rotations in Quincy as part of a specialized curriculum track at the school called Rural-PRIME.

Since 2016, third-year Rural-PRIME students have been assigned to the hospital to better understand the needs of rural patients and gain valuable insights and experiences by shadowing local area physicians.

“For over two decades PDH has been actively involved in teaching medical students and residents, exposing them to a true rural practice here in the Sierra Nevada mountains,” added Kepple, who now serves the hospital as a liaison with medical schools. “This exposure has proven to be a powerful recruitment tool, as doctors in training observe and participate in a wide scope of primary care practice including obstetrics. Our commitment to being a rural teaching institution has raised the bar of quality we expect from our physicians, and sets high standards for those we recruit.”

More access to specialty care in Plumas County

The Rural Center of Excellence designation also means better access to specialty care for Plumas County residents. The Quincy hospital is 75 miles from the next nearest full-service hospital, so the Plumas District team has pursued a variety of measures to fill gaps in clinical services.

Telemedicine connectivity, for example, has been linking U.C. Davis Health experts in Sacramento to their Quincy hospital colleagues for years via videoconferencing when specialty care is needed.

“One of the reasons we’re honored to partner with Plumas District Hospital is because their entire team has been diligent and visionary about the way health-care services can and should be delivered in a rural community,” Lubarsky said. “They’ve doubled-down on quality, service and excellence, a philosophy of care that guides UC Davis Health, too. The new designation enables us to now collaborate even more easily and closely with Plumas County physicians.”

Meeting the needs of local communities

Plumas District Hospital is only the second hospital to earn Rural Center of Excellence from U.C. Davis Health. The first was the Truckee-based Tahoe Forest Health System in 2009.

“Plumas District Hospital is doing an amazing job in many areas, and a good example is its determination to continue providing maternity care,” said Suzanne Eidson-Ton, who directs U.C. Davis’s network of Family Medicine residencies, as well as the school’s Rural-PRIME project.

“There is a rural maternity-care crisis in our country, with many rural hospitals being forced to stop providing maternity care, which then means that pregnant women must often drive hours for prenatal care appointments and delivery,” added Eidson-Ton. “What impressed us about PDH was their determination to meet the needs of the community even when it’s not financially advantageous for the hospital. They have four family medicine physicians whose practices include obstetrics so that they can continue providing crucial services like maternity care.”

Determined to bridge the gaps in health care services

The Rural Center of Excellence designation is designed to complement and enhance the continuous learning environment that PDH has established for its doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals. Continuing medical education and other types of training opportunities will expand with the UC Davis Health partnership. Medical research opportunities, with easier access to clinical trials for local residents will also be part of the new collaboration.

“We are determined to bridge the gaps in health care services that every rural provider faces,” Kepple added. “Our mission is to be able to provide everything right here in our own community. Whether it’s connecting patients to medical specialists or giving our clinical teams access to the latest in medical education and training, we’re going to do it all right here in Quincy.”

Collaboration enhances rural health

U.C. Davis Health’s Lubarsky noted that community health often improves when health care systems collaborate and share in training, education and clinical care services. It then enables providers in smaller, more remote communities to address the challenges caused by physician shortages, economic constraints and geography.

“As a land-grant university, U.C. Davis was established to share knowledge,” Lubarsky said. “The Rural Center of Excellence program reflects that ethos and the reason why we are so pleased to be able to award Plumas District Hospital with this designation.”

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