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AHA Report: Solutions to Protect Rural Health

September 23, 2022

A new report from the American Hospital Association (AHA) outlines the hurdles rural hospitals face to remain open and solutions to help protect rural health care.

Low volume and reimbursement, workforce shortages, and regulatory burdens pose considerable challenges, and “the financial outlook for many rural hospitals moving forward is precarious,” the report notes.

“These closures—whether due to declining financial performance, geographic isolation or low patient volume—have an outsized impact on the health and economic wellbeing of rural communities,” the report said of rural hospitals.

Among the key takeaways:

  • The challenge:  There were 136 rural hospital closures from 2010 through 2021. During 2020, there were 19 closures, the most of any year in that span.
  • Workforce:  Just 10 percent of physicians work in rural areas, the report noted. About 70 percent of primary care Health Professional Shortage Areas are in rural or partially rural areas.
  • COVID-19 impact:  Rural hospitals continue to care for sicker patients, while managing higher expenses for labor, drugs, and supplies. Fluctuating patient volumes also have posed a challenge.
  • Solutions:  Supporting new models of care, creating new avenues for partnerships, and easing regulatory burdens can help bolster rural health care, the report notes.
  • Quotable:  “To mitigate rural hospital closures, hospitals continue to explore strategies that allow them to remain viable within the community,” the report said.

The report is available to review online.

Pennsylvania’s rural hospitals continue to deliver outstanding care in the communities they serve and are leaders in innovative care models. During 2019, the Pennsylvania Rural Health Model launched to ensure Pennsylvania’s rural hospitals can continue to be anchors within their communities. The Rural Health Model helps protect rural health care by:

  • Providing predictable revenue sources.
  • Rewarding hospitals for improving the health of communities and reducing the need for intensive—and expensive—acute care.

HAP continues to support the Rural Health Model and advocate for state and federal resources that help preserve rural health care across Pennsylvania.

For more information, contact Kate Slatt, HAP’s vice president, innovative payment and care delivery.