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Rising Concerns For Rural Health Care


Rural hospital closures are on the rise in the U.S. Utah is in better standing than the rest of the country, but since it has a large rural population, this trend raises a flag of caution. 


Utah has more than 45 operating hospitals and 25 are considered rural. As a country, the U.S. has closed 65 rural hospitals since 2010.

Brock Slabach, senior vice president of member services for the National Rural Health Association, says part of the reason why closure rates are on the rise is because of…

“Sequestration, which is a government program that reduced Medicare expenditures to all facilities by 2 percent. For rural facilities, this had disproportionately impacted their operations because they may be running as much as 80 percent revenue in the Medicare bucket. When you have that much revenue in one place, a 2 percent cut can add up to a lot.

Slabach says the decrease of funding has negatively affected all rural hospitals, even the ones still in operation. If the problem gets so bad that hospitals have to shut down, he says that one of the main problems facing those living in these areas is their loss of access.

“This will require much larger distances to be travel for even basic health care. The second is the formation that we are calling medical desert, which are vast areas that may have relatively little or no health care. And last but not least is the economic impact. These institutions carry a large contribution to the economic vitality of these rural areas. As a result, you may see perhaps a spin-off of other businesses and industries that will not decide to stay because of the lack of health care infrastructure.

Slabach would like to see more effort on the prevention of closure.

“Once these resources are gone from our rural communities, it will be very difficult and extremely expensive to bring them back.”

He says that the majority of recent closures happened in states that did not expand Medicaid.