Hospital closures will leave 'medical deserts'

Recent trends in hospital and clinic closures will devastate communities with only one hospital, according to U.S. News & World Report.

The closures are for a variety of reasons, including demographic shifts, politics and the economy, the article states, and reimbursement cuts to hospitals due to healthcare reform may exacerbate the problem. The issue is not just the lack of geographical access, but the fact that residents of "medical deserts" in rural areas are less likely to have good health insurance, Brian Smedley, Ph.D., a health policy expert with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, told U.S. News.

"Unfortunately, health care remains a commodity that's bought and sold on the open market," and it's primarily up to hospitals to determine what the market will bear, Smedley said. "There's reason for concern that the trend will escalate."

Part of the problem is the unequal distribution of healthcare resources in rural areas, according to the article. Of the 5,700 hospitals in the U.S., only about 35 percent are in rural communities, and there are 640 counties nationwide lacking quick access to an acute care hospital. This represents nearly a quarter of all residential areas in the country.

For example, the Shelby Regional Medical Center in Center, Texas, the only hospital in Shelby County, closed last year over allegations of billing fraud and inadequate patient care. The closest hospital is 20 miles away, according to the article. Meanwhile, in Mississippi, the dispute between Blue Cross-Blue Shield and HMA could cause the closure of up to six hospitals statewide.

An August recommendation by the Department of Health & Human Services' Office of Inspector General to rethink critical access hospital certification could result in the closure of  multiple critical access hospitals, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

Underserved urban communities have similar troubles, according to U.S. News. Over the past 50 years, Detroit has gone from 42 hospitals serving 1.5 million people to four hospitals serving 700,000 people, many of whom are uninsured or unable to pay for treatment. Across the nation, the article states, nonprofit hospitals are closing locations that consistently lose money in favor of areas where patients are more likely to be insured.

To learn more:
- read the article