Noble Health Foundation to lead rural health innovation

Noble Health Foundation to lead rural health innovation
Elijah Haahr shares a laugh with guests at a meet and greet hosted by Audrain Community Hospital on May 25. Haahr is the executive director of the newly formed Noble Health Foundation. [Dave Faries]
Dave Faries

Noble Health executive chairman Don Peterson promised a new style of leadership when the company took over operations at Audrain Community Hospital. On Tuesday, May 25 the Noble Health team took a first big step toward fulfilling that pledge.

The company announced the formation of Noble Health Foundation, introducing former speaker of the Missouri House Elijah Haahr as its executive director during an assembly at the hospital.

The foundation has ambitious goals. Its purpose is to change the delivery of healthcare in rural Missouri through innovation, experimentation, technology and pilot programs.

"We want the focus to be on creating best practices in rural healthcare," Haahr explained. "We're building concepts and goals."

Audrain Community Hospital will become a center for developing these programs. One of the first tasks is to improve and expand the reach of mental health services, which has been of particular concern to school districts.

Haahr says that telehealth has yet to reach its full potential, particularly when it comes to mental health.

Reports from across the country show a rise in potential behavioral issues among teenagers, in part due to cyberbullying and increased isolation during the pandemic. Remote outreach programs have fallen short, often because of the stigma parents attach to mental health issues.

"Social and cultural issues can make or break a good technology," Peterson observed, adding that innovation involves broad considerations. One hospital on its own does not have the bandwidth to solve big issues.

"That's what this foundation is about," he said.

Noble Health's vice president of government and community relations Tom Carter points out that the initial focus on behavioral health is the result of the series of town hall meetings – dubbed "listening sessions" – the company held in Audrain and surrounding counties over the winter and spring.

Teachers, school district administrators and long term care facility staff members approached the Noble Health team on several occasions with their concerns.

But the mission of Noble Health Foundation is not limited to behavioral issues. Since 2010, 136 rural hospitals in the U.S. were forced to close. According to company executives, one in four rural facilities are currently at risk of closing.

The foundation intends not just to bring rural healthcare up to date, but to test new ideas and develop processes that have not been considered.
The purpose, Carter said, is "Better healthcare, better outcomes while staying close to home."

Haahr was elected to the state House of Representatives in 2012. He stepped down in 2020, ending his term as speaker.

As a lawyer for the Springfield law firm Kulak Rock, Haahr has argued cases in state and federal courts.

"As an accomplished attorney and public policy professional, we believe Elijah will have a substantial and positive impact on the communities in which Noble operates," Peterson said.

Peterson indicated the solutions found through thought and trial – and occasional error – by the foundation will likely have influence beyond the state's borders.

That the Mexico hospital will be central to this effort is not by accident.

"Coming into this, we understood the facility had to redeem itself with the community," Peterson explained. "We still have a long way to go."


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