The wide-open spaces of Arco, Idaho, appeal to some doctors with a love of the outdoors.
In the central Idaho community of Arco, where Lost Rivers Medical Center is located, the elk and bear outnumber the human population of a thousand. The view from the hospital is flat grassland surrounded by mountain ranges that make for formidable driving in wintertime.
“We’re actually considered a frontier area, which I didn’t even know was a census designation until I moved there,” says Brad Huerta, CEO of the hospital. “I didn’t think there’s anything more rural than rural.”
There are no stoplights in the area. Nor is there a Costco, a Starbucks or — more critically — a surgeon. With 63 full-time employees, the hospital is the county’s largest employer, serving an area larger than Rhode Island.
Six years ago, the hospital declared bankruptcy and was on the cusp of closing. Like many other rural hospitals, it was beset by challenges, including chronic difficulties recruiting medical staff willing to live and work in remote, sparsely populated communities. A hot job market made that even harder.
But against the odds, Huerta has turned Lost Rivers around. He trimmed budgets, but also invested in new technologies and services. And he focused on recruitment. He targeted older physicians — semiretired empty nesters willing to work part time. He also lured recruits using the area’s best asset: the great outdoors.