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Rural Hospital Closures Rise to Ninety-Eight

After a brief break in rural hospital closures, the numbers began to rapidly rise this summer. The rash of closures has only continued as temperatures have dropped, leaving hundreds more rural American out in the cold. Just last week, two more rural hospitals closed, bringing the number of rural hospital closures up to 98 since 2010. Hundreds more are likely to follow. Currently, 46% of rural hospitals operate at a loss, compared to 44% in 2018 and 40% in 2017. Due to financial strains, nearly 700 rural hospitals are financially vulnerable and at high risk of closure.

In rural areas, health care is so much more than what happens within the walls of a hospital or facility. Health care is the center of the rural economy, creating jobs and opportunities for residents, encouraging families to move to a county, and incentivizing businesses to open their doors. Without a rural hospital, a community will crumble. The most recent hospital closures will leave communities across the country without local care and will devastate rural economies nationwide.  
  • Last week, Washington County Hospital, a Critical Access Hospital in Plymouth, North Carolina, closed its doors. The hospital cited financial difficulties as the cause of the closure. Management does hope to reopen the emergency room only if financially feasible. CEO Melanie Perry said prior to the closure, that shuttering the county's only hospital would be devastating to the town of Plymouth, approximately 125 miles east of Raleigh.
  • Oswego Community Hospital, a Critical Access Hospital in Oswego, Kansas closed just a day before Washington County Hospital on the evening of February 13, 2019. Nearby clinics in Oswego and Chetopa are unable to operate without the hospital and will close. The hospital’s board released a statement saying the hospital had “weathered low patient volumes; high number of uninsured patients; low reimbursement rates; difficulty in getting payment from private insurance providers; low Medicaid and Medicare rates; and the state’s refusal to expand Medicaid.”
  • In late December, Mercy Hospital Fort Scott, a Medicare-Dependent Hospital in Fort Scott, Kansas closed its doors. "Mercy Hospital has been privileged to serve Fort Scott since 1886. Like many rural hospitals across the country, we have struggled to remain viable as community needs have changed,” said Reta Baker, the hospital’s president. The hospital had watched patient volumes drop over the years, without the ability to tailor or change their care to fit these needs.
  • Earlier in December, Winnsboro, South Carolina lost its Critical Access Hospital, Fairfield Memorial Hospital. The hospital’s CEO, Suzie Doscher told local news that the hospital experienced financial challenges due to a dwindling population in its rural county. In the past two years, Fairfield’s communities watched as they lost Element Electronics’ Winnsboro plant and lost a project to to build two new nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in nearby Jenkinsville. The two have caused the area to lose a combined 5,100 jobs, causing families to leave the community and increasing unemployment and uninsurance in the area.
  • Texas lost two rural PPS hospitals in December, Little River Healthcare Cameron Hospital and Little River Healthcare Rockdale Hospital. Little River Healthcare filed for bankruptcy earlier in the year. Rockdale Mayor John King said closing the hospital will negatively affect the community in many ways, including the community’s access to critical care. "That puts our first emergency room within about 30 miles… so we're looking to 30 to 45 minutes transport time, which could cost lives in the long run." Little River Healthcare clinics were also forced to shutter. One former clinic employee in the Cameron area explained, “Thousands of patients are left without any providers to care for them. Providers themselves are not allowed to get patients lists or records so they can contact the patients and provide a transition of care.”
  • Adventist Health Feather River Hospital in Paradise, California, closed due to damage from the fire that raged through the area in November. Adventist Health told the San Francisco Chronicle that the 100-bed hospital was “severely damaged and services will not be restored until 2020 at the earliest.”
  • Though it closed its doors in May 2018, Latimer County General Hospital, a Medicare Dependent Hospital in Wilburton, Oklahoma, did not officially close until October 2018. On Oct. 12, less than two weeks after Latimer County General Hospital closed, Pauls Valley Regional Medical Center, a Sole Community Hospital in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma shut down. Because of the closure, about 130 employees lost their jobs. Oklahoma’s rural hospital closures rapidly rose from 3 to 5 in the span of just two weeks.
  • Southeast Health Center of Ripley County in Doniphan, Missouri, also closed its doors in October. The Medicare-Dependent Hospital shuttered due to declining patient volumes and financial concerns. Shauna Hoffman, Vice President of Marketing & Business Development for SoutheastHEALTH, which operated the hospital says the facility sees an average of two patients per day, which makes the financial burden of operating a 24-hour facility unsustainable.

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. To learn more about new models and opportunities, visit our advocacy page here. To learn about the hospital closures from the summer and fall, visit our blog here

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