Monday, March 07, 2016

SMALL TOWN USA - Closing Hospitals

"Small towns watch aging hospitals shutter" PBS NewsHour 3/4/2016


SUMMARY:  In rural communities across the country, health care is becoming an increasingly scarce commodity.  More than 50 rural hospitals have closed nationwide since 2010, and hundreds more teeter on the brink of bankruptcy.  It’s a trend driven by falling revenues and decreased federal funding, and it could have dire implications for small-town America’s future.  Sarah Varney of Kaiser Health News reports.

SYBIL AMMONS, Stewart County Coroner:  It’s just sad.  And the hospital, oh, my goodness.

SARAH VARNEY (NewsHour):  Sybil Ammons is a fixture in the town of Lumpkin, Georgia, population 1,500.  For years, she was the director of nursing at the county’s only hospital in nearby Richland.  Now she’s the county coroner.

SYBIL AMMONS:  Our people built this hospital, our ancestors.  The hospital, when I ride by there, it just breaks my heart, because my mama worked over there before I did.  My sister was born over there.

It’s just so sad, so sad.

SARAH VARNEY:  The hospital closed in 2013.  Since then, Ammons can count off the local residents she thinks have been harmed or died because they couldn’t reach medical care quickly enough.

SYBIL AMMONS:  We have had a stroke, several heart attacks, several cardiac problems.  We have had traumas out on the four-lane.  I would say at least 10 to 15 people have had bad outcomes from the hospital closing.

SARAH VARNEY:  Two hundred miles away in Folkston, Georgia, near the Okefenokee Swamp, Pam Renshaw had to bypass her town’s closed hospital when she needed it most.  After a day of yard work, Renshaw overturned her four-wheeler, spilling into a fire pit used to burn trash.

Her then-boyfriend, Billy Chavis, pulled her from the fire and patted down the flames on her body with his bare hands.

PAM RENSHAW, Burn Victim:  Whenever I got in the truck, my whole — everything right here just fell in my lap.  And I just pulled it back up, and I’m like, oh, my gosh.  It’s bad, isn’t it?

BILL CHAVIS:  And I said, yes, we got to get you to a doctor.  And I seriously thought we was going to lose her.  And the whole time, I’m driving to town with the palms of my hands, where I burnt my hands.  I said, where do I go?  Where do I go?
SARAH VARNEY:  More than 50 rural hospitals across the country have closed since 2010, and hundreds more are in fragile financial condition.  It’s a trend hastened by declining revenues and a restructuring of the health care industry that rewards scale and connectivity, difficult goals for hospitals that are small and remote.  As rural hospitals have closed here in Georgia, hundreds of people have lost their jobs.  And many small towns have been left reeling.

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