The Scores of Rural Hospital Closures In America Will Come With Huge Ramifications For U.S. Health

Not only are rural hospitals some of the most depended-upon institutions in the country, they also represent a valuable part of the country's’ economic stability. Due to a variety of disparaging factors, however, many hospitals in rural regions are being permanently shut down, causing an onslaught of ramifications for patients, healthcare professionals, and rural communities across the United States, according to iVantage.

Since 2010, over 70 rural hospitals have closed across more than 20 states. These closures have resulted from shortage of healthcare personnel, aging facilities, overwhelming regulatory requirements, and insufficient reimbursements from federal operated programs like Medicaid and Medicare.

Recently a non-profit 31-bedroom hospital closed in Sayre (Okla.) Memorial Hospital due to a number of factors. Hospital officials said in a statement:

"The closure is due to the continual financial strain that the hospital has felt… In 2012, CMS reduced reimbursements by 30 percent to 35 percent to Sayre for Medicare patients who can't cover their out-of-pocket expenses."

Rural hospitals have been dealing with these complications for decades, but while many have been resilient in the past, there are over 670 rural hospitals are on the verge of experiencing the same fate as Sayre Memorial. These closures potentially represent 99,000 healthcare jobs and a hit of roughly $277 billion to the gross domestic product.

Rural hospitals are extremely important to their communities as they account for 15% to 20% of all the jobs in their region (both primary and secondary employment). The presence of just a single physician accounts for 8.4 jobs in a given rural location.

In communities with lower income status, these hospitals are even more economically vital because health services are among the most important quality-of-life factors that attract businesses, new residents, and retirees. Yet, the majority of potential shutdowns are listed in markets with great health disparities. The index said:

"In other words, many of the hospitals most at risk of closure are located in communities that can least afford to lose access to care."

The National Rural Health Association (NRHA) said in a recent report that 62 million Americans — or nearly 25% of the country’s population - are served by rural hospitals. Without a local provider, these Americans will be negatively impacted by the closures as they will have to drive long distances to receive primary, specialty, and emergency care.

The fact is, rural hospitals are a much needed asset, not only to their communities, but to the national economy. In many reports, they are even proven to function with greater patient care, efficiency and cost effectiveness compared to larger hospitals. The index said:

“Rural hospitals have achieved a noteworthy level of comparative performance (versus larger urban hospitals), including: demonstrated quality, patient satisfaction, and operational efficiency for the type of care most relevant to rural communities. The misunderstanding that rural hospitals are more costly, inefficient, and have lower quality and satisfaction is empirically challenged.”

While current reports and healthcare professionals continue to hail about the value of rural hospitals, they remain under constant economic pressure and without the help of larger institutions or greater government intervention, these hospitals, along with their patients and communities, lead a dismal future.