Making a Strategic Decision to Specialize in Women’s Health

Updated on April 8, 2024
Ways To Raise Awareness Around Women’s Health

The data is abundantly clear that women often do not get the care they need because of myriad economic, social, and personal barriers. Women often put their own care needs behind those of other family members. Even a single missed screening can lead to adverse health outcomes.

Our community hospital operates in a competitive region, about 20 miles from Boston’s top academic medical centers. What sets us apart from our larger, more institutional competitors is our ability to provide personalized care tailored to our local community’s needs. This is different from providing every conceivable service for every type of patient.

With an understanding of how important services catering to women are, we made a significant investment in women’s health. This decision, and the ongoing commitment required to honor it, greatly benefit the women in our extended service area who have recently lost access to these services.

Nationwide, 217 hospitals have closed OB services since 2011. As hospital maternity services close, more women must travel farther to get care, creating greater risk for mothers and newborns. We chose to keep our maternity unit open. We delivered more than 1,400 babies in 2023, as other community hospitals were forced to shutter their maternity services, mainly due to immense workforce constraints and challenges in recruiting the specialists needed to deliver these services.

Thinking about women’s health as only maternal health, however, is to underestimate the needs of female patients. Research demonstrates that women need specialized and personalized care throughout their life cycle, not just when preparing for childbirth. Being able to provide those services ensures that we can build and nurture relationships with women in our community, whatever their needs, stage of life, and particular health concerns.

Before major issues arise, we must ensure women are accessing the care they need to maintain their health. For example, breast cancer affects 1 in 8 women in the US and accounts for a third of all new female cancers. About one-third of women over 50 have osteoporosis, a higher rate than men because menopause brings about hormonal changes that can weaken bone density. Menopause can also lead to new behavioral health needs. Other conditions that occur more in women than men include urinary tract infections and even Alzheimer’s disease. Providing women with easy access to vital screenings and preventive care is critical.

We have invested significantly in recruiting leading female physicians to support women’s health, including maternity, pelvic health, digestive health, cancer screenings, and breast health. Now that we have all the necessary resources, we aim to keep women’s health front and center. We have also recognized in our health system that women’s health is not just clinical care. Life transitions, for example, can be challenging. We provide wellness classes and support groups that have become quite popular.  

We have proudly launched efforts to engage and encourage women to keep up with their primary care and health screenings. This outreach is often through the voice of Emerson’s trusted women’s health experts via blog articles, podcasts, and Q&As that we push out regularly to our patients and the community via email, social media, print publications, and virtual and in-person women’s health panel events. Sometimes, people need a little nudge to get care that will contribute to better health

Unlike academic medical centers, community hospitals cannot be all things to all patients. Even more important, they should not try to be. We must focus our priorities on what our community needs, and comprehensive women’s health services are essential to our community’s health – particularly when these services are in jeopardy elsewhere. 

Christine Schuster
Christine Schuster
President & CEO at Emerson Health 

Christine Schuster, RN, MBA, is president and CEO of Emerson Health in Concord, Mass., and the immediate past chair of the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association.