The Future of Rural Hospitals - Mayo Center for Innovation - Healthcare Design

What Happens When Rural Hospitals Close?

Post Written By Susan Mazer

Having just attended the National Rural Hospital Association’s Critical Access Hospital conference in Kansas City, I’m still moved by what I didn’t know, the challenges to the healthcare organizations that care for our rural communities, and the ongoing risks posed by the closing of rural hospitals.

Nye Regional Medical Center served Tonopah and Nye County in Nevada. A 10-bed facility, it was the only hospital in a 100 mile radius. It closed recently, leaving the residents of this community without any nearby emergency or primary care.

Many warnings went out about the financial stresses of Nye Regional Medical Center. However, because of its location and size, there were no larger systems willing to partner with it to keep it open. This part of the U.S. is now a healthcare desert — a place where having a heart attack or stroke is lethal simply because of location.

At the NRHA conference, this story was common. According to an article in Modern Healthcare, 51 rural hospitals have closed since 2010 and 253 more are in danger of closing.

The dedication of the administrators and staff to their communities and patients was obvious in the discussions and presentations at this conference. However, the challenges of keeping their organizations afloat are dominating the conversation and focus.

According to the American Hospital Association, almost one fifth of the U.S. population (60 million people) lives in a rural area. And, many of them are elderly. Most are on Medicare or Medicaid.

When lack of funds is the prominent struggle, the focus on patient care can become blurred. Let’s not let that happen to rural hospitals. Why don’t larger urban hospitals adopt their smaller rural hospitals? Why isn’t telemedicine reimbursable for these isolated communities? And, why would any state abandon its rural communities?