Rural hospitals struggle to stay open

Newly-opened hospital in Ashland

KEARNY COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) – Ashland opened its new hospital on Sunday, after years of planning, but many rural hospitals are struggling to keep the lights on.

For rural communities, proximity can mean the difference between life and death.

“Distance to a quality health care facility is a major obstacle for many,” said Michael Mages, the CEO of Ashland Health Center.

Mages says if it weren’t for his facility, three residents would have died in the past year on the way to seek treatment.

“They wouldn’t have made it the hour, hour and a half long trip to the next level of care,” he said, “had we not stabilized and gotten Life Team in here.”

Ashland residents hope their larger, more advanced facility will be the foundation for economic growth.

“You know it’s a tremendous employment base for Ashland,” said resident John Humphreys. “We need our hospital. We need our high school, our school system.”

Kearny County Hospital CEO Ben Anderson says it’s hard for communities to thrive without a hospital.

“It’s difficult to recruit teachers,” he said, “therefore it’s difficult to maintain schools. Hospitals are a backbone in rural communities.”

Anderson says more than a third of rural hospitals across the country are in danger of closure.

“As reimbursement levels have declined for hospitals over the last five or ten years, we’re seeing early signs of vulnerabilities.”

He says three things need to happen to ensure the long-term survival of rural hospitals.

“We need to make sure every American has access to health care coverage,” he said. “We need to make sure that coverage pays for the right services, services that would keep people well instead of caring for the ill, and we need to make sure that those appropriate services are available.”

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