One of American Sentinel’s partner organizations, the National Rural Health Association (NRHA), is leading the fight to stop rural hospital closures, with its #SaveRural campaign. By planning a series of events, advocacy efforts, and pleas for congressional intervention, the NRHA hopes to draw attention to a serious but under-recognized public health issue our nation is facing.
According to the NRHA, 53 rural hospitals have closed since January, 2013 – that’s more than in the previous ten years combined. What’s worse, advocacy researchers have identified another 283 hospitals that may be on the brink of closure. Unless Congress steps in with comprehensive legislation and funding that will keep those hospitals open, 700,000 patients could lose direct access to care. Local economies would likely also suffer, as hospital employees are laid off.
Healthcare providers and patients in rural areas already face greater obstacles than those in urban areas, and certain factors come together to create health disparities between rural and urban Americans. These factors include economic, social, cultural, and educational differences. Rural citizens are less likely to have employer-provided health insurance, and are therefore more likely to be uninsured or under-insured. They tend to be poorer and more likely to have a chronic illness. Because of the sheer isolation of living in remote areas, rural residents have greater transportation challenges in receiving routine care and emergency services, and often have to travel a great distance to reach a doctor or hospital. According to the NRHA, 97 percent of rural counties in the U.S. have been designated as Primary Care Health Professional Shortage Areas.
Rural providers are also financially challenged, having to treat older and sicker patients with fewer resources. They tend to be more dependent on Medicare reimbursement than their urban colleagues and are vulnerable to policy changes in the program.
The NRHA has recently organized a group of advocates from 14 states, who are walking 283 miles (one for every hospital identified as being at-risk of closing) from a rural county in North Carolina to the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, DC, where they arrived on June 15. The goal is to bring attention to the Community Access and Rural-health Equity (CARE) Act, which will help protect both rural patients and providers by supporting sustainable models for care delivery in rural areas, including policies that support telemedicine services. The American Hospital Association (AHA) has a position statement supporting this legislation and other pending congressional bills.
As a nurse, you advocate for patients on a daily basis. The NRHA would like to remind you that you can do this by asking your members of Congress to protect rural hospitals and patients, through calls, letters, emails, tweets, and Facebook posts. For more information, take a look at the NRHA’s Save Rural Hospitals Action Kit.