One community fights back against the impact of a rural hospital closure

Guest post by Raymond Hino, president and CEO of the Sonoma West Medical Center in California

The closure of the 37-bed hospital in our small community in Northern California last year was devastating. Disbelieving doctors, nurses, clinical and support staff and community members cried, held vigils and mourned the loss of our community hospital.

Palm Drive Hospital had served this community continuously for 73 years. The first hospital was built in 1941. It was replaced by a modern 47-bed hospital structure that opened in 1975. However, by 2014 the hospital's owner, Palm Drive Health Care District, was facing its second bankruptcy in just seven years. The hospital closed its doors on April 27, 2014.

When a small rural hospital closes its doors, the effects on its community can be dramatic. Rural hospitals are economic engines in their communities, as they are usually the largest employer in town. And of course, jobs in hospitals are paid well above the average of other employers in the area. Hospital jobs also cause a positive ripple effect by helping to grow other jobs in the community as well.

And 200 employees (the number employed at Palm Drive Hospital when it closed) and their families, living locally, will support more jobs--jobs like school teachers, grocery clerks, food establishments, veterinarians and more. A study at Oklahoma State University in 2003 determined that for every rural hospital job lost, there was an additional .38 jobs lost in the community. Or in other words, when 200 hospital jobs disappear, there will be an additional 76 additional jobs lost in the community. In a small community of 10,000 people, the loss of 276 jobs is a catastrophe.

>> Read the full commentary at Hospital Impact