Effect of rural hospital closures lingers in communities

Rural hospitals are struggling across the United States, but when they close, it deprives their communities of both jobs and ongoing business development, Marketplace Radio reported.

For example, after the closure of Hancock Memorial Hospital in Sparta, Ga., in 2000, the town experienced more than a decade of economic bad times, according to Marketplace. The community can't attract industrial employers--those likely to offer the greatest number of jobs--because there is no place nearby to treat its employees in case of a workplace injury, according to Hancock County Commission Chairperson Sistie Hudson. The nearest hospital is 30 miles away, and it takes approximately 90 minutes to drive to the nearest facilities that treat complex cases, according to Georgia Public Radio. That means workers' compensation insurance costs are much higher, and it makes a town such as Sparta unattractive for new business development.

A rural hospital costs a community, on average, "about 1.6 percentage points in unemployment, about $700 in per capita income [in 2000 dollars, which adjusted for inflation is closer to $1,000 today],"  said University of North Carolina professor Mark Holmes, who has studied the economic impact of 140 rural hospital closures nationwide, according to Marketplace.

States' refusal to expand Medicaid eligibility as part of the Affordable Care Act also places greater pressure on their rural facilities, as many of them depend heavily on Medicaid dollars.

Moreover, the hospital closures also impact the overall health of the communities, with death rates from emergent issues such as heart attacks or strokes approaching 40 percent--far higher than in communities that have their own hospitals.

Since Hancock Memorial closed, eight other rural facilities have shut their doors in Georgia. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) has proposed legislation that would allow struggling rural hospitals to survive in stepdown form. It's unlikely the legislature will approve the bill in the near future, however, so Deal is leaning toward executive action to try and address the issue, Georgia Public Radio reported.

To learn more:
- read the Marketplace Radio article
- here's the Georgia Public Radio article