The new chief executive officer of the Indiana Rural Health Association is entering her third week on the job, taking leadership as the COVID-19 pandemic brings unprecedented challenges to the healthcare industry.
The IRHA board of directors this spring selected Cara Veale to fill the post, following the announced retirement of Don Kelso whose last day is July 31. Kelso has been working with Veale to help with the transition.
Veale most recently served as vice president of provider services at Daviess Community Hospital in Washington.
“Within healthcare, it’s ever-changing,” said Veale in an interview with Inside INdiana Business. “You have to learn to roll with the punches and address the most pressing issues.”
The most pressing issue right now is the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Keeping our rural hospitals and health partners aware and abreast of changes and recommendations, and new and innovative ways to deliver care as a result of changes with COVID-19 is number one,” said Veale.
The new CEO said the IRHA is doing a lot of education of how partners can deliver care in the middle of a pandemic with what seems like constantly changing government regulations and waivers as a result of the declared state of emergency.
“It’s something I’m constantly addressing every day, new articles, new publications, new regulations. They’re constantly being updated, so we want to make sure partners are being shared that info.”
Veale previously worked with the association to establish a school telehealth clinic in Daviess County. The IRHA has helped with funding to install telehealth technology in rural schools throughout the state. The pandemic has revealed the need for telemedicine for broader use.
“The adoption of telehealth is imperative. It goes with how we address patient care delivery, in a situation like a pandemic,” said Veale.
Veale takes the helm of the health association as the rural health sector faces ongoing financial problems, even before COVID-19 became a part of vernacular.
“Coming from the rural hospital world prior to this position, there are a lot of situations that rural hospitals must overcome financially, and that might mean paying a premium top dollar to recruit providers to the area,” Veale said. “There’s a lot we have to do financially which taxes rural hospitals anyways. Throw a pandemic on top of it, and it makes it more challenging.”
While the pandemic has created a new priority issue for IRHA, Veale said the organization does not want to lose sight of other key issues for the organization, including opioid and substance abuse disorders, infant mortality and the lack of obstetrician-gynecological services in rural Indiana communities.
“At IRHA, everyone walks and demonstrates the mission every day, which is truly what we’re here for.”
Veale began her career at Daviess Community Hospital in 2007 as an occupational therapist and has since held several roles, including director of rehabilitation therapy, chief patient experience officer, and executive director of provider services.
She said those positions helped prepare her for this new role.
“Now I have the opportunity to not only impact those who not only step into my hospital but into any health organization in rural Indiana.”
Veale lays out some of the top priority issues for IRHA.
Veale explains some of the constant challenges rural health is facing amid the pandemic.