By Phillip Miller
The prognosis for rural hospitals is not a positive one. According to the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program, 90 rural hospitals have closed nationwide since 2010. A 2015 study sponsored by the National Rural Health Association (NRHA) indicates that 673 rural hospitals, or one in three, is under financial duress, with 210 at risk of closure.
There are various reasons why rural hospitals are struggling, a key one being lack of physicians willing to practice in rural areas. The NRHA reports that approximately 1,000 physicians a year discontinue rural practice due to retirement, relocation, disability or death, while only about 700 take their place.
The result is that access to medical services in rural areas continues to decline. As of July, 2018 there were 6,739 Health Care Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) for primary care in the United States, about double the number identified by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) 15 years ago. Over 65 million people live in a primary care HPSA and 67 percent of HPSAs are in rural areas. The ratio of primary care providers to patients in these areas is less than one per 3,000. HRSA projects it would take over 17,000 additional primary care clinicians to achieve a ratio of one primary care doctor per 3,000 patients in the nation’s 6,700-plus HPSAs.[Read more…]