Growing from within

Published 11:47 am Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Providing healthcare for more than 20% of Americans, rural hospitals are the cornerstones of the communities they serve. They are often among the most prominent local employers and help attract new area businesses. The presence of a thriving rural hospital is a sign of the community’s vitality and economic stability. Yet, because of competitive and financial pressures, many rural hospitals are fighting to stay afloat and are closing at an alarming rate. Since 2010, 121 rural hospitals have permanently closed. The closure rate is staggering.

Each closure means rural Americans have fewer options for essential “lifecare,” and those communities lose a necessary economic generator. Fortunately, our local gem, St. Luke’s Hospital, is outside of that closed category!

Rural hospitals across the country, St. Luke’s included, face workforce shortages, aging infrastructure, geographic isolation, smaller patient populations, rising costs, reliance on Medicare and a significant uninsured population. Attracting and retaining the best-of-the-best leaders is vital to the organization’s ongoing success. Over time, we have successfully developed top-notch leadership by investing in training external candidates who have joined us and by providing advancement and mentoring opportunities to internal teammates.

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Chief Nursing Officer Stephanie Postol, MBA, BSN, RN, is an example of this growing from within. 

Stephanie received her BSN from the University of South Carolina and her MBA from Western Governors University. She is a Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality and holds a chemotherapy/bio certification.

Stephanie has worked as an ER nurse, cardiac catheterization lab nurse, primary open heart OR nurse, and ortho/neuro/spine center supervisor. She helped launch a geriatric fracture and spine center. Stephanie worked in oncology nursing for five years before becoming an acute care nursing director overseeing another organization’s med/surg, oncology, infusion, and inpatient care units.

In 2018, Stephanie joined St. Luke’s as the quality and risk manager, where she had the opportunity to earn her MBA. Lynn Hensley, VP of Ambulatory Services (retired), and Kathy Hefner, VP and Chief Nursing Officer (retired), quickly recognized Stephanie’s experience and potential and began mentoring her to assume the CNO position upon Kathy’s retirement. Mentorship works as Stephanie has served in our Chief Nurse role for over a year and is doing an incredible job!

With a heart for the underserved, Stephanie actively advocates politically for improved patient care. She said, “The current system methodically reduces pay for services, leaving small rural healthcare hospitals like St. Luke’s in a perpetual financial battle to stay afloat.” Stephanie wants to change that and is an active participant with the North Carolina Healthcare Association, The NC Office of Rural Health, and the National Rural Health Association (NRHA).

Organizations like NRHA serve rural communities by advocating on our behalf, publicizing rural health issues, and seeking to resolve healthcare issues facing rural America. NRHA hosts prestigious certification programs for which leaders apply and participate.

Through the National Rural Health Association Chief Nursing Officer Certification Program, rural hospital CNOs strengthen their leadership, operational, financial, and clinical knowledge. Excellence in hospital leadership follows graduates of this immersive program. During this study, Stephanie will study the building blocks of a thriving rural hospital and dive deeply into lean management principles, quality management, and physician partnerships. 

I am proud to share that Stephanie became fully sponsored through a state grant to participate in this essential program! Her cohort begins on October 11, 2023 and concludes with graduation on June 5, 2024. 

The obstacles healthcare providers and patients face in rural areas like Polk County are tremendously different than in urban areas, so the curriculum in Stephanie’s studies is vital to continually sharpening our leaders. We as a community are incredibly fortunate to have a nurse leader like Stephanie, who advances her knowledge to impact healthcare in Polk County positively. I am proud of her selection for this sponsorship and am pleased to share the news of her acceptance of the prestigious certification program.


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