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Rural hospitals take another hit

The struggle of rural hospitals to stay open in today’s economy is well documented. Rural areas have high rates of people without health care coverage, and hospitals face high rates of uncompensated care when they have to come in for treatment. Population is falling in rural areas, meaning fewer patients. More mobile patients are choosing to travel to larger facilities in bigger cities that can offer more services. Small rural hospitals can’t afford the investment it takes to keep up with the latest technology. They have trouble attracting doctors and other health care workers. Medicare and Medicaid payments don’t begin to cover the cost of providing services in some hospitals.

The trend hit southwest Minnesota this week when the Mayo Clinic announced it will close facilities in Springfield and Lamberton in March 2020, for all the reasons above.

The numbers for Springfield tell the story. In 2019 so far, the hospital has admitted nine in-patients and 28 patients for overnight observation. The emergency rooms sees and average of three or four patients a day.

Unable to attract physicians, the hospital has been treating patients with nurse practitioners, physician assistants and teleconferencing with doctors in other facilities.

With eight other hospitals in the area, including New Ulm Medical Center, patients had the option to go elsewhere. What happened in Springfield and in Lamberton this week has been happening across the country in rural communities. Modern Healthcare reports that in the last ten years, more than 100 rural hospitals in America have closed, and more than 600 remain at risk of closing.

The closing of a hospital can have a deleterious effect on a community, not just in loss of health care opportunities, but loss of good paying jobs and loss of one of the things that makes a community attractive to potential residents and businesses. It is possible that some other health provider system may find a way to reopen at least some services in Springfield.

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