Causes and Consequences of Rural Small Hospital Closures from the Perspectives of Mayors

Authors

  • L. Gary Hart,

    1. Requests for further information should be sent to: L. Gary Hart, PhD, WAMI Rural Health Research Center, Department of Family Medicine, HQ-30, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195.
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  • Michael J. Pirani,

    1. Requests for further information should be sent to: L. Gary Hart, PhD, WAMI Rural Health Research Center, Department of Family Medicine, HQ-30, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195.
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  • Roger A. Rosenblatt

    1. Requests for further information should be sent to: L. Gary Hart, PhD, WAMI Rural Health Research Center, Department of Family Medicine, HQ-30, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195.
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  • We express our appreciation to Sylvia Boeder and Carol Dunlap of the American Hospital Association for their assistance in obtaining rural hospital closure information, the many associates of the WAMI Rural Health Research Center who reviewed earlier versions of this paper and its associated survey questionnaire, the 130 mayors who took time from their busy schedules to participate in our survey, Denise Lishner for her editorial help, and Martha Reeves for her expert typing assistance. This research was supported through the WAMI Rural Health Research Center, which is funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration's Office of Rural Health Policy.

Abstract

ABSTRACT: Mayors of rural towns whose small general hospitals closed between 1980 and 1988 were surveyed. Only hospitals that were the sole hospitals in their towns and that had not reopened were included in the survey. Of the 132 hospitals meeting these criteria, 130 (98.5%) of the mayors of their communities responded to the survey.

The typical study hospital had 31 beds, with an average daily census of 12. Three fourths of the hospital closures were in the North-Central and South census regions. Half of the hospital closures were for hospitals that were 20 miles or more from another hospital.

Mayors attributed the closure of their hospitals primarily to governmental reimbursement policies, poor hospital management and lack of physicians. To a lesser extent, they also implicated competition from other hospitals, reputation for poor quality care, lack of provider teamwork, and inadequate hospital board leadership.

Respondents reported they had little warning that their hospitals were in imminent danger of closing. Warnings of six months or less were reported by 49 percent of the mayors; only 33 percent of mayors of towns with for-profit hospitals reported having more than six months warning.

Of the 132 hospital buildings that closed, only 38 percent were not in use in some capacity in the summer of 1989. Most were being utilized as some form of health care facility such as an ambulatory clinic, nursing home, or emergency room.

More than three fourths of the mayors felt access to medical care had deteriorated in their communities after hospital closure, with a disproportionate impact on the elderly and poor. Nearly three fourths of the mayors also perceived that the health status of the community was worse because of the hospital closure, and more than 90 percent felt it had substantially impaired the community's economy.

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