• A Sense of Alarm as Rural Hospitals Keep Closing

    The following originally appeared on The Upshot (copyright 2018, The New York Times Company). 

    Hospitals are often thought of as the hubs of our health care system. But hospital closings are rising, particularly in some communities.

    “Options are dwindling for many rural families, and remote communities are hardest hit,” said Katy Kozhimannil, an associate professor and health researcher at the University of Minnesota.

    Beyond the potential health consequences for the people living nearby, hospital closings can exact an economic toll, and are associated with some states’ decisions not to expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act.

    Since 2010, nearly 90 rural hospitals have shut their doors. By one estimate, hundreds of other rural hospitals are at risk of doing so.

    In its June report to Congress, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission found that of the 67 rural hospitals that closed since 2013, about one-third were more than 20 miles from the next closest hospital.

    study published last year in Health Affairs by researchers from the University of Minnesota found that over half of rural counties now lack obstetric services. Another study, published in Health Services Research, showed that such closures increase the distance pregnant women must travel for delivery.

    And another published earlier this year in JAMA found that higher-risk, preterm births are more likely in counties without obstetric units. (Some hospitals close obstetric units without closing the entire hospital.)

    Ms. Kozhimannil, a co-author of all three studies, said, “What’s left are maternity care deserts in some of the most vulnerable communities, putting pregnant women and their babies at risk.

    In July, after The New York Times wrote about the struggles of rural hospitals, some doctors responded by noting that rising malpractice premiums had made it, as one put it, “economically infeasible nowadays to practice obstetrics in rural areas.”

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