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A rural hospital making big moves

by Sean Ruck, Contributing Editor | July 23, 2021
Dr. Katherine Bunting
From the July 2021 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

Fairfield Memorial Hospital caught our eye when we heard they were undergoing a massive $20 million expansion when the pandemic hit. For many rural hospitals, COVID-19 might have sidelined those plans, but Fairfield chose to stay the course.

We spoke to Dr. Katherine Bunting, the hospital’s CEO, to learn what that was like behind the scenes, and also to get a better sense of her own background and what makes Fairfield Memorial a special place to work.

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HCB News: What inspired you to get involved in healthcare?
Dr. Katherine Bunting: That’s very simple. Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a nurse. There was no doubt about it. My mom and dad said I would wear a play nurse’s hat and a stethoscope and carry a little bag around with me. And I would tell everyone I was Kathy the nurse. I always aspired to that. When I first got out of high school, I went directly to a nursing program and eventually ended up with my master’s degree in nursing. After several years of working, I knew if I wanted to impact real change, I needed to get a doctorate in business administration. So, that’s what I did. That led me to the CEO position in the hospital in order to use my nursing skills and aptitude to help make decisions that have positive effects on the patients on a larger scale.

HCB News: What attracted you to Fairfield Memorial?
KB: I have never worked very far from home. I was born and raised in Edwards County, a very small county in Illinois — only 7,000 people in the entire county. When first got my nursing degree, I worked at Richland Memorial Hospital for 19 years and that was only 20 miles away from me. Then I decided I needed experience in a tertiary facility, so Deaconess Hospital in Evansville, Indiana was only 60 miles away. I worked there for a few years. I later had the opportunity to come to Fairfield and become the CEO. That ended up being 17 miles from home. Now I reside in Fairfield and I’m only seven minutes from home. I’ve been here 23 years.

HCB News: Is Fairfield a stand-alone hospital?
KB: We are a stand-alone hospital with four clinics in different towns close by. We are not affiliated with any of the larger tertiary facilities. That said, we work very well with Deaconess. In fact, I have a monthly meeting with their CEO — we alternate sites. We keep each other very informed of what’s going on in our individual hospitals and I know if I need something, I can pick up the phone and give Shawn a call. And in turn, if he needs to know something about a rural hospital, he can pick up the phone and I’ll be on the other end.

HCB News: Are stand-alone hospitals the norm for Illinois?

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