Firm News

Formalizing Our Commitment to Rural Healthcare

September 9, 2021

Ascendient has always been a purpose-driven healthcare consulting firm. Our relentless focus on healthcare transformation goes much deeper than some academic concern over best practices. We truly believe that every person deserves to get the right care in the right place at the right time, and that’s only possible in a transformed healthcare system where incentives and outcomes are better aligned and more financially sustainable.

The need for healthcare transformation is especially acute in rural areas, home to 20 percent of the U.S. population. Rural residents in general are older and poorer than the rest of the country, with a higher incidence of chronic conditions. Even adjusting for age, death rates are 25 percent higher in rural areas compared to cities – a disparity that’s only growing with time.

Despite the heightened need for care, rural hospitals have been shutting down at an alarming pace, including a record number of closures in 2020 alone.

The rural healthcare crisis is complex and multi-layered, with drivers that include substance abuse, depression, and lack of exercise. Ascendient can’t solve for all those things, but we can do more to strengthen the delivery of healthcare services in rural areas.

That’s why we’ve joined with four like-minded firms to launch the Rural Healthcare Initiative, a unique collaborative that brings together more than a century of consulting experience bolstered by a nonprofit educational arm. The other partners in this endeavor come from Criterion Healthcare, Health Management Resources, Jarrard, and Nelson Mullins. All of the founders are driven by a sense of purpose – “a burning desire,” as the website puts it, “to help save rural healthcare.”

A Firm-Wide Commitment

From the very beginning, we’ve built Ascendient as a healthcare advisory firm that gives back in dozens of ways, from pro-bono consulting to community volunteerism. We’ll continue to make room for the various passions that drive our consulting professionals, but RHI gives us a chance to focus on a mission that animates the entire firm.

Here are our commitments:

First, we’re foregoing certain consulting fees due to the collective design of RHI. By approaching engagements together, our five firms can offer a “wraparound” view of the problems and opportunities facing each client, from strategy to staffing and consolidation to communication. This allows us to pool foundational tasks that would otherwise be billed individually (and redundantly) by specialist firms – tasks such as demographic research or regulatory review.

For financially struggling rural providers, this represents a significant savings compared to managing individual firms. In fact, we think it’s the most efficient, most cost-effective consulting solution available in the marketplace – an approach that works only because purpose-driven firms like Ascendient are willing to earn less through the RHI collective than we would on our stand-alone projects. (To understand what that looks like in practice, please read this case study on the RHI blog.)

Some will ask why we charge fees at all, and the reason is simple. We envision RHI as a social enterprise, or a self-sustaining business that’s built first and foremost to advance a larger mission. Rather than a one-off donation of hours or expertise, we want to create a business model that offers immediate value to clients while helping to advance the entire rural healthcare sector for years to come.

And that brings us to our second commitment as a firm: Donating time and expertise to the nonprofit educational arm of Rural Healthcare Initiative. As a 501(c)(6), RHI will offer workshops, board retreats, public testimony, and more for rural healthcare providers that couldn’t afford speakers and programming on their own.

RHI also plans to publish original research at no cost, based on the real-world needs of rural providers. Research is one of the things we do best at Ascendient, and our professional staff will be contributing to this effort through an annual time commitment of donated hours.

From our earliest days as a firm, Ascendient has been committed to rural healthcare. After more than a quarter-century of working with rural providers of every kind, we’re excited to align with a handful of like-minded firms to offer the option of a “one-stop shop” for broad expertise and the best possible value.

From a single operational issue to a total reimagining of healthcare in your community, RHI is here to help. If you’re a rural healthcare provider in need, please visit the RHI website for more information, then call us here at Ascendient to discuss how we might help.