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Rural Hospital Closures Climb Quickly to Eighty-Seven

Over the last two months, the number of rural hospital closures has risen rapidly to 87 total closures (since 2010). In rural America, health care is a pillar of the community. It helps to create and foster a sustainable and livable environment for rural Americans, and without health care, without a hospital, a rural community will crumble.

As John Henderson, CEO of the Texas Organization of Rural and Community Hospitals (TORCH) explains, “Hospitals, schools, churches. It’s the three-legged stool. If one of those falls down, you don’t have a town.” The most recent hospital closures will leave communities across the country without local community care.
  • The most recent hospital to shutter, Chestatee Regional Hospital in Dahlonega, Georgia, closed on July 26. Chestatee is the seventh rural hospital to close in Georgia since 2010. Georgia (7), Texas (15), and Tennessee (8), have more rural hospital closures than other states. The PPS Hospital had 38 beds and was the home to more than 200 jobs. Although another health system is planning to buy the physical plant, the community will be without a hospital, and the crucial health care services it offers, for at least a year before a new owner could use the building.
  • Stamford Memorial Hospital, a PPS hospital in Stamford, Texas closed on July 9, 2018, stating that a decline in patient numbers. A Facebook post from the hospital explained that the average inpatient number for the hospital was 2.6 in 2007, but declined steadily to .48 for the first half of 2018, endangering its ability to meet the Medicare definition of hospital. Without Medicare funds, inpatient hospital services could not continue.
  • Twin Rivers Regional Medical Center, a 116 bed PPS Hospital in Kennett, Missouri closed on June 12, the fourth rural hospital in Missouri to close. The closure gained national attention after the publication of a startling New York Times article on emerging obstetrics desserts in the southeast region of the state. The article followed a few of the patients that relied on this hospital for access to crucial care, including prenatal care. Less than half of the country’s rural counties have hospitals that still provide obstetric care, and Kennett, Missouri had one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the nation even prior to the facility’s closure.
  • Coalinga Regional Medical Center, a Sole Community Hospital in Coalinga, California, closed on June 12 as well, a decision resulting from substantial financial losses and falling inpatient numbers. The 240 bed hospital’s debt had reached $4.5 million by the time it closed. According to the Fresno Bee newspaper, the closure will leave residents of rural western Fresno County without an emergency room for more than 40 miles. The next closest hospitals, Kaweah Delta Medical Center in Visalia and Fresno Community Regional, are more than 60 miles away.

By September 15, we will have yet another closure: Mckenzie Regional Hospital, a PPS hospital in rural western Tennessee, will shutter its Emergency Room this month and will end all services soon. The 45-bed hospital has notified the Tennessee Department of Health and will begin reducing new admissions in the coming weeks. With 8 rural hospital closures in the state since 2010, now 6 have been in the western, more rural part of the state.

As access to care in rural communities disappears, we need the support of Congress now more than ever to stop the flood of hospital closures and create an environment in which innovation can thrive. NRHA believes a multifaceted approach is necessary to address the struggles of rural health care providers including hospitals:
  • The first prong of this approach is to ensure rural providers reimbursement rates are sufficient to allow them to keep their doors open.
  • A second prong is to support measures that reduce the cost of providing care including through regulatory relief efforts that reduce costs without negatively impacting patient care.
  • The third prong of this approach is to support new models that allow communities to retain necessary access to local care including a local emergency room while right sizing their facilities to flexibly meet the needs of the specific community.

Together, these policies can all begin to bring rural health care into the 21st Century and ensure its successful future. For more information on the importance of innovative and stabilizing policies, visit this discussion of the Community Outpatient Hospital model included in the Save Rural Hospitals Act, H.R. 2957.

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