The Healthcare Gap for Rural Americans is Much Too Wide

By R. Kenneth Gordon, RCHC Board Chair

Where you live is a very real determinant of the healthcare services you can access. The gap in healthcare is profound and widening. For the nearly 60 million people living in rural America, access to healthcare services is diminishing.

The demand is there. One in five of us live in rural regions of the United States (2010 Census). There are more veterans and older adults living in rural areas, and these groups tend to rely more on healthcare services and, when hospitalized, have longer stays.

The need is there. Rural communities have a higher incidence of disease and conditions including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and opioid overuse—to name a few.

Rural communities need hospitals. Of the 1,829 rural community hospitals in the United States (American Hospital Association), 82 rural hospitals have closed since 2010 (NC Rural Health Research Program). For perspective, 13 have closed in Texas, the most in any state. Tennessee is next on the list with eight closures, followed by Georgia with six closures, and five each in Alabama and Mississippi. More than 200 hospitals have a high risk of closure, and many of these are located in southern states in communities that can least afford to lose access to care (iVantage Health Rural Relevance Study).

The sustainability of a rural community hospital is difficult in challenging times, especially when confronted by reimbursement cuts, financial pressures and not having the service breadth, primary care and specialty physicians, and medical technologies to adequately serve its community.

As the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is challenged and unraveled, states, communities and citizens are faced with grave uncertainty about healthcare options and access. As debate continues, I challenge all of us to factor in the importance of healthcare in rural America.

We cannot forget the health of rural Americans or allow the gap in access and quality services to widen. It is time for innovation.

I’m proud to be part of the Rural & Community Healthcare Collaborative, founded in 2016 by Community Hospital Corporation, which has been working for decades to improve healthcare in rural communities.