Rural Tennessee hospitals struggle to stay open

Tennessee's rural hospitals continue to struggle, bearing the burden of the state's decision to pass on expanding the Medicaid program, the Memphis Daily News reported.

Four rural hospitals closed in recent months--although one has since reopened--and dozens more are at risk of closing, according to the Daily News. A fifth facility, Jellico Community Hospital, located in the isolated northeastern part of the state, is in danger of closing if it cannot find a buyer.

The Tennessee Justice Center, a not-for-profit organization that focuses on healthcare delivery for low-income residents, identified 54 hospitals throughout the state that are in danger of closure. The Memphis Daily News noted that the closings have had a significant economic impact on the surrounding areas.

The state's decision to pass on Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has led to a "marked difference" in the finances of its hospitals compared to the states that chose to expand coverage, Tennessee Hospital Association Executive Director Craig Becker told the Daily News, leaving his hospitals "stressed to the max" financially.

Tennessee will miss out on $2.3 billion in federal funds to expand the Medicaid program next year, and about 257,000 residents will forego insurance coverage as a result. Moreover, the state's hospitals will lose about $70 million in disproportionate share hospital funding, which was cut back as part of the ACA.

Rural hospitals in other states that have not expanded Medicaid also struggle. In Arkansas, Crittenden Regional Hospital recently closed, while the East Texas Regional Healthcare System chose not to renew leases for two of its affiliated facilities. In North Carolina, Pungo Hospital closed in July.

Jellico Community Hospital, which is just a half-mile from the Kentucky border, reported a drop in uninsured patients coming into the emergency room because the neighboring state expanded Medicaid coverage, according to the Memphis Daily News.

To learn more:
- read the Memphis Daily News article
- check out the Tennessee Justice Center data