Across Alabama, Rural Hospitals Struggle to Survive

Blurred doctors surgery corridorAcross Alabama, rural hospitals are in critical condition.

According to the Washington Times, eight rural Alabama hospitals have shuttered their doors over the last 15 years, with more closures on the horizon. In the United States, 54 rural hospitals have closed since 2010.

More than 60 years ago, the federal government set up a nationwide network of rural hospitals to ensure that all citizens could have access to medical care. Since then, the gradual dwindling of Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements rates — combined with growing numbers of poor and uninsured patients — has slowly choked the life out of these hospitals.

“It’s not just one thing. It’s a perfect storm,” explained Danne Howard, Senior Vice President of the Alabama Hospital Association.

For many Alabamians, these hospitals are often the only ones within a 50-mile radius. The struggling Wedowee Hospital, for example, is the only hospital in 45 miles in the rural expanse of Randolph County — a place where one in four residents live in poverty.

The 34-bed, 60-year-old Wedowee Hospital shows signs of age and disrepair at almost every turn, the Washington Times reported. The hospital lacks a central air conditioning system, with window air conditioners — which last just 12 to 15 years, on average — keeping just a few select areas cool. Its hallways are too narrow for present-day gurneys, and cracked window panes are a common sight.

Despite its less than state-of-the-art facilities, Wedowee’s residents rely on this hospital for survival. If it were to close, its health professionals would relocate elsewhere, leaving the community with no place to seek out care.

“I think it causes an uneasiness among people. I think it causes a loss of people moving in,” said Mickey L. Murdock, Mayor of Elba, another town that lost its general hospital.

State Health Officer Don Williamson recently released a study that found that there are 13 Alabama hospitals “teetering on the brink financially” whose closures wouldn’t affect access to care, as they’re located near other hospitals. If these facilities were to close, it’s possible more state Medicare funds could be put toward hospitals that are often the only ones for many miles.

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