Home » Report Finds Hundreds of Rural Hospitals at Risk of Shutting Down

Report Finds Hundreds of Rural Hospitals at Risk of Shutting Down

by Richard A Reagan

A recent study by Chartis, a Chicago-based healthcare advisory services firm, has cast a glaring spotlight on the dire straits facing rural hospitals across the United States.

167 rural hospitals have closed their doors since 2010, and an additional 418 are teetering on the brink of closure. [Source]

The states most affected by this crisis include Texas, with 45 hospitals at risk, followed by Kansas (38), Nebraska (29), Oklahoma (22), North Carolina (19), Georgia (18), and Mississippi (18).

Chartis’s analysis identifies seven critical factors influencing a hospital’s risk of closure, including the number of years operating at a loss, net patient revenue, and the average number of inpatients. [Source]

An increasing number of still-operating rural hospitals are eliminating essential health services, such as cancer treatments and maternal care. 

“Approximately 43% of rural hospitals are operating at a financial deficit,” Michael Topchik, national leader of The Chartis Center for Rural Health, pointed out.

The pandemic may have temporarily overshadowed the issue, but with its waning, the specter of policy-driven reimbursement cuts and the ongoing nurse staffing crisis threaten to further destabilize the rural health safety net.

The impact of these potential closures extends far beyond the hospitals themselves.

Dr. Kenneth Perry, an emergency department physician, underscores the vital role rural hospitals play in the national healthcare system. “There are many patients who do not have access to primary care but are within close enough proximity to rural hospitals, and obtain most of their care within those hospital systems,” he told Fox News Digital.

Perry warns that the closure of these facilities would not only strip many Americans of hospital care but also of access to emergency departments, which many low or underinsured patients rely on for primary care.

The study also delves into the potential lifesaver that the Rural Hospital Emergency (REH) designation could represent for these at-risk institutions. Enacted by Congress in December 2020, the REH designation allows qualifying hospitals to focus on providing emergency department services and some outpatient services, potentially offering a financial reprieve.

Yet, the path to REH designation is complex and may only be a viable solution for some. Of the 389 rural hospitals Chartis identified as “most likely” to consider conversion to REH status, only 77 were deemed “ideal candidates.” This indicates that while the REH designation could be a pivotal aid for some, it is not a catch-all solution to the crisis at hand.

The closure of rural hospitals is a blow to the heart of rural America. The situation calls for immediate and decisive action to preserve these essential institutions.

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