A Different Kind of Desert

hospital_signLiving in the desert is nothing new to many Arizonans. But there is a new type of desert that is growing across our country and it could jeopardize rural communities in our state. It’s known as a hospital desert.

When rural hospitals are forced to shut down, nearby residents are left in hospital deserts….which is an area where the nearest hospital is more than 30 miles away. Arizona has lost three rural hospitals since 2010:

CNN.com put together a short video on a small Nevada town that lost its hospital and how the people there are coping with the closure. You can watch it by clicking here or on the picture below.

hospital desert

A recent study points out that some 30 million Americans don’t live within an hour of trauma care. And another recent CNN story found that 16% of the people living in the U.S. mainland are 30 miles or more away from the nearest hospital…..meaning they live in a hospital desert.

The problem has been exacerbated as rural hospitals struggle to stay open. Since 2010, 81 rural hospitals have closed in the United States, according to a rural health research program at the University of North Carolina. Another 673 rural hospitals are vulnerable to shutting down.

MedAssist looked at four key areas as it tried to explain why it is so difficult for rural hospitals to stay financially solvent.

Technology – Technology makes everything easier just about everywhere, right? Not exactly. Key advances in technology are slower to reach rural areas because they aren’t profitable until they become largely commoditized. Secondly, rural populations, by design, are slow to adopt new technology (often for financial reasons) even when they conceivably make life easier.

Socioeconomics – Statistically, rural areas are declining in earnings since 2007. Also, earnings are 25% lower in rural areas compared to urban and suburban areas. Unfortunately, the cost of care doesn’t give rural areas a break because they have a weaker economy.

Staffing – Rural populations are shrinking, meaning they lose more residents than they add each year. That makes it difficult to attract and retain the right staff. Too often, in lieu of the right people because they simply aren’t there, less qualified people are recruited or positions remain open.

Regulatory – While regulatory efforts are often initiated as a means to protect the people, the people end up suffering anyway. There are so many regulatory requirements in operating a hospital that make the cost burden nearly unbearable. With respect to rural communities, officials in the last few decades have not been sensitive to their unique cultural attributes.

Last December, Becker’s Hospital Review did a state-by-state breakdown of the 80 rural hospitals that have closed in the U.S. since 2010, including the three here in our state. How can we stem this tide and make sure Arizonans in rural communities do not lose their hospitals? Share your thoughts and any innovative ideas you may have that you believe could help. Generating meaningful conversations around the health issues making headlines is another way we are working toward our long-term goal of one day making Arizona the Healthiest State in the Nation!

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