LETTER TO THE EDITOR: The Importance of Rural Hospitals

Published 10:42 am Monday, January 1, 2024

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Dear Editor,

Many small rural hospitals are at immediate risk of closing. More than 50% of the 600 rural hospitals in America are operating in the red and 30% of all rural hospitals are at risk of closing in the near future. Alabama is one of the five highest percentage states operating at a loss. 74% of Alabama’s rural hospitals are operating in the red. Most rural hospitals that have closed had losses on patients with private health insurance as well as Medicare, Medicaid, and uninsured charity care patients. They had no other sources of income sufficient to offset these losses.

Rural hospitals have inadequate revenues to cover expenses and very little financial reserves. They operate at a loss in terms of both inpatients and outpatients because standard reimbursement payments from insurers of healthcare are not large enough to cover the higher costs of delivering hospital services in small rural communities. Many rural hospitals continue to remain open because they secure state and federal grants, receive local tax revenues, solicit charitable funds through hospital foundations, or profit from other hospital activities and services that offset their losses on patient services. There is no guarantee that these supplemental funds will continue to be available in the future or sufficient to cover higher losses.

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Closure of any one of our 40 remaining rural hospitals in Alabama would mean the community residents will lose local access to many essential healthcare services. Rural hospitals deliver not only traditional hospital services such as emergency care, inpatient care, laboratory and x-ray services, but most of them deliver outpatient primary care and specialized services.

Operating a rural hospital in Alabama presents distinct challenges, but our mission is to provide top-notch healthcare to every community member, especially as we strive to serve underserved populations in our rural settings. We believe healthcare is a human right and it is our responsibility to make it accessible to everyone in our community, regardless of their socioeconomic status, age, gender, or any other characteristics.

To our community members, it is your hospital. We are here to serve your unique health care needs and to ensure that everyone has access to the healthcare they need and deserve. Our hospital is not just a place for medical care, it is a pillar of the community. As you read this list on the importance of your hospital to your community, think of what it would mean if any one of our hospitals closed. We need your community support in more than one way.

Why a rural hospital is important to the community it serves:

  • Access to local healthcare and emergency care
  • Brings in new patient services and physician specialists to the community
  • Brings in other medical related industries and companies. For example, dialysis center, cancer center, rehabilitation services, nursing homes/assisted living centers, pharmacy, medical equipment companies, physician offices, etc.
  • Brings in talent, leaders and families to the community
  • Provides good paying professional jobs
  • One of the largest employers in town
  • Increases the town’s population and the quality and quantity of students to its schools
  • Attracts physicians to live and practice in the community
  • Good professional jobs attract young, educated men and women back home after college
  • Provides student training opportunities in nursing and other professions
  • Wellness centers, health fairs and preventative care keep community people healthy and improves the quality of life.
  • Supports the local economy, physician and employee incomes infuse local businesses and churches.

Nothing is more important to a small town than the local school system and hospital, particularly if you wish to attract new industry and businesses to your town.

In conclusion the challenges of operating rural hospitals are significant, but so are the opportunities. Together with our physicians and employees and supportive members of our communities, we will continue to provide exceptional care to all who need it, ensuring that our hospitals remain open to serve you and build a healthier future for our communities.

Jessica McGraw Administrator J Paul Jones Hospital

Douglas Brewer Chief Executive Officer Whitfield Regional Hospital

  1. Patrick Trammell Chief Executive Officer Regional Medical Center of Central Alabama 

Bob Henger Administrator Northwest Regional Health 

Jennifer Young Administrator Lakeland Community Hospital

Donald Jones Administrator Fayette Medical Center