At the start of
the 21st century, a shift was happening among
Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs) in Illinois.
Longstanding walls of separation crumbled as competing
hospitals began organizing to share ideas and become a
Through its mission, “to strengthen Illinois
Critical Access Hospitals through
collaboration,” ICAHN provides the environment
and tools for rural hospitals to become healthy and
sustainable healthcare sources for their communities.
This video depicts the strengths of ICAHN and how it
helps rural Illinois hospitals:
A Cohesive Operation
Securing all 51 of Illinois's CAHs and 3 small rural
hospitals as voluntary members
of ICAHN was no easy feat. Schou and her team have
proactively connected with hospital leaders and staff to
build trust. “We have a close relationship with
the hospitals and have a finger on the pulse of their
needs,” she said.
Since its beginning, ICAHN's primary focus has been
providing assistance to meet the needs of rural hospitals
across the state. Soon after incorporating, ICAHN
coordinated focus groups, conducted needs assessments,
and distributed surveys among hospital staff. From there,
they established services, programs, and educational
opportunities that met the needs expressed. Through
ICAHN, member hospitals can now operate cohesively,
communicate collectively, and gain purchasing power.
“ICAHN works almost like a clearinghouse.
Hospitals can share their resources and save some money
by being a part of this network instead of going in all
different directions,” explained Schou.
Like Schou, many of ICAHN's employees have a rural
healthcare background, making them empathetic to the
struggles and needs of the network's hospitals. Even with
the staff's expertise, Schou primarily attributes ICAHN's
success to the enthusiasm of its hospitals.
“The hospitals came together because they
saw…the homogeneity of the system. They liked being able
to network with hospitals the same size. The cohesiveness
came from members who were able to share ideas and
operations,” stated Schou. “It's
really their organization. We just provide the support
The cohesiveness came from members who were able to share
ideas and operations. It's really their organization. We
just provide the support for it.
ICAHN has been championed by many stakeholders
— like Nancy Newby, one of the first to serve
as president of the network's board. As CEO of the
Washington County Hospital, she set the tone for the 10
other presidents that followed. She continues to remain
involved to this day. ICAHN is governed by nine-member
Board of Directors made up of member hospital executives.
Schou commended the board's work, “Their
commitment, support, and ongoing leadership has been part
of the success of ICAHN.”
Establishing a Presence
At the start of the network, ICAHN was largely dependent
upon IDPH. Now, the two organizations are more like
extensions of each other. ICAHN's close relationship with
the hospitals provides a trusted avenue by which IDPH can
directly assist CAHs and other rural hospitals. In turn,
IDPH provides staff, funding, and resources that ICAHN
could not have otherwise afforded.
ICAHN has been careful to avoid duplicating the efforts
of other health-related organizations in Illinois.
Because of this perspective and IDPH's help, ICAHN has
created a niche for themselves that has attracted many
statewide and national partners.
It's easy to do what you have always been doing, but then
you are not relevant. Do your best to stay relevant.
Schou says that the courage to find solutions for present
needs is what has made ICAHN stand out. “You
have to be somewhat proactive and willing to take that
next step, to take a risk,” she said.
“It's easy to do what you have always been
doing, but then you are not relevant. Do your best to
ICAHN's relevancy comes from years of positive results by
putting its hospitals' needs first. Since ICAHN'S
founding, Schou's work has caught national attention. A
winner of the Flex Program's 2013 Calico Leadership Award
and the 2015 National Rural Health Association's (NRHA)
President's Award, Schou was also elected to the position
of Secretary of the NRHA in 2015 where she is working to
assist rural hospitals and networks across the nation.
“I think it's interesting how, when hospitals
are so often in competition with one another for
business, ICAHN has found a way to get them to network
and partner successfully,” stated Megan
Meacham, senior advisor at FORHP and former project
officer for several grant programs managed by ICAHN. Many
of ICAHN's innovations made possible through FORHP funds
have stood out to Meacham as effective ways for rural
hospitals to share ideas and resources.
One of ICAHN's most notable accomplishments was being
approved by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
as a vendor for Hospital
Consumer Assessment of Health Providers Systems
(HCAHPS). This patient satisfaction survey gives
patients an opportunity to offer suggestions to improve
their hospital's inpatient, outpatient, and emergency
room services. ICAHN's HCAHPS program has also expanded
and is being used in seven other states.
A widely used ICAHN service is the
Peer Network Groups. These are open to all staff of
member hospitals as a communal and confidential way to
give and glean information from like professionals.
Quarterly meetings, advisory teams, and educational
sessions provide a solid ground for collaboration between
professions. Members can continue conversations through
Listservs, a secure online interactive portal.
We don't just connect the hospitals at the CEO level. We
connect physical therapists to other physical therapists
and nurses to other nurses.
These services provide an open communication system to
share problem solving techniques, product ideas, and
staffing questions. “We don't just connect the
hospitals at the CEO level. We connect physical
therapists to other physical therapists and nurses to
other nurses. The whole hospital is a member of the
network. That's why the hospitals like it – they are all
connected and can get needed resources,”
Motivating through Incentives
ICAHN not only offers practical services for members, but
also incentives to encourage improved patient
satisfaction and customer service. Recognitions like the
Innovation of the Year Award and Young Leader Award
applaud those who have gone above and beyond in their
Hospitals are also given project awards distributed by
ICAHN. “Programs know they have achieved
something if awarded a grant from ICAHN. It gives
leverage and credibility to the organization,”
said Julie Casper, IDPH State Office of Rural Health
(SORH) Program Director.
Encouraging professional growth is very important at
ICAHN. Executive trainings, staff trainings, and
supervisory workshops conducted by hospital staff provide
continued education from attendees' peers.
ICAHN shares quality and performance metrics of each
member hospital benchmarked against those of larger
hospitals outside of their network. Members appreciate
the opportunity to compare themselves to others and
conversations about how to improve are sparked. Through
these collaborative discussions and healthy competitions,
ICAHN has raised the bar of healthcare services in
Illinois while helping everyone achieve their goals.
Accepting New Challenges
As someone who works closely with ICAHN, Casper knows its
success came with extreme dedication and drive to serve.
“It has taken a lot of work and effort to get
to where we are today. Recognizing that ICAHN is a leader
is not something that can be overlooked,” said
With their mission to help hospitals through quality
services, ICAHN anticipates the need to evolve in order
to better serve its hospitals in the future.
“As they accept new challenges, we accept new
challenges,” says Schou. In the ever-changing
world of healthcare, this attitude of adaptability has
been key to the hospitals' survival. They are now able to
compete with larger hospitals that have more resources.
If you want to integrate and have an operational network,
be multi-faceted and open-minded to change. We have been
very careful to listen and respond to members. If a
hospital has a need or issue, you have to act.
“If you want to integrate and have an
operational network, be multi-faceted and open-minded to
change. We have been very careful to listen and respond
to members. If a hospital has a need or issue, you have
to act,” said Schou.