A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) highlights some of the ramifications of rural hospital closures.
Publicly released in January, the report found that 101 rural hospitals closed between January 2013 and February 2020.
“While this number may seem small, it’s having a big impact on the communities that those hospitals served,” GAO wrote in a blog post about the report.
In rural markets where a hospital closed, the distances that residents had to travel increased from 3.4 miles to 23.9 miles for inpatient care and from 5.5 miles to 44.6 miles for alcohol or drug abuse treatment.
Major increases in distance also were found for care in the emergency department (3.3 miles to 24.2 miles) and in a coronary care unit (4.5 miles to 35.1 miles).
“It’s easy to imagine how these closures could affect residents who need treatment for COVID-19,” the GAO blog post states.
Physician availability also took a hit in rural counties with hospital closures. Between 2012 and 2017, the median number of physicians declined from 71.2 to 59.7 per 100,000 residents in counties with closures. In other counties, the decrease was from 87.5 to 86.3 per 100,000 residents.
The situation could become more dire
The GAO blog post notes that the pandemic may intensify the financial burden on rural hospitals, meaning it’s not hard to envision the pace of closures accelerating in the months and years ahead.
“Specifically, rural hospitals had enough cash on hand to operate a median of less than 80 days without additional revenue,” the post states.