Rural hospitals struggle to keep doors open

Declining inpatient volume, falling reimbursement rates and failure to bring in enough revenue make rural hospitals the most vulnerable to closure,as demonstrated by the most recent string of closure announcements.

The East Texas Medical Center Regional Healthcare System announced it would not renew two leases with affiliates in Mount Vernon and Clarksville, and will phase out inpatient care emergency department at a third rural hospital in Gilmer.

Crittenden Regional Hospital in West Memphis, Arkansas stopped admitting new patients this week and will close its doors Sept. 7, after a fire in June financially crippled the already struggling hospital, the Arkansas Times reported.

The closure comes as a blow, after more than five years of initiatives to keep the facility open, such as hunting for a health system partner or buyer and attempts to recruit physicians, enhance services, and find new sources of revenue, according to an announcement from the hospital. "Unfortunately, the fire decimated our cash position. We are not able to finance our operations until December when the tax revenues would have been received," Board of Trustees Chairman David Rains said in the announcement.

The closure leaves 400 employees uncertain about their future. Hospital leaders are reaching out to other healthcare organizations to find opportunities for physicians and employees, according to the announcement.  

Rural hospitals across the country continue to brainstorm ways to stay viable in a treacherous financial environment. Ellett Memorial Hospital, a 12-bed critical-access facility in Appleton City, Missouri, reports a decline in use, but for now is financially stable, CEO Ray Magers told KY3 news. "We're trying to figure out ways to counteract that decline either by offering new services or partnering with some other hospital," Magers said.

In Georgia, the Rural Hospital Stabilization Committee, appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal (R), gathered Monday and compared free-standing emergency room models and how they could work in rural hospitals, WALB News reported. The group, intended to increase communication between hospitals and the state, also discussed how rural hospitals can better understand the legal issues they face in Georgia.

To learn more:
- check out the various ETMC closure announcements
- read the Arkansas Times article
- here's the Crittenden closure announcement
- check out the KY3 news story
- read the WALB News article