The state of rural hospitals in Alabama

Published: Mar. 2, 2020 at 10:27 PM CST
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PICKENS COUNTY, Ala. (WBRC) - We’re taking a look at the state of our rural hospitals after one in west Alabama announced it will shut down by the end of the week.

It's no secret, rural hospitals in Alabama are struggling to stay open. According to the Alabama Hospital Association, 88% of rural hospitals operate in the red.

"It’s becoming impossible for hospitals, rural hospitals in particular, to continue to provide uncompensated care without having devastating financial repercussions,” Danne Howard with the AHA said.

The Pickens County Medical Center in Carrollton is the latest to remove itself from life support. hospital officials announcing its closing on March 6th because of financial issues citing fewer patients, reduced federal funding and a high number of uninsured patients.

The AHA says expanding Medicaid among other things could have likely saved it from closing. Howard calls the state of rural hospitals in Alabama “extremely fragile”. Since 2010, seven rural hospitals have closed according to Chartis research. The healthcare analytics firm reports about a dozen of the state's over 40 rural hospitals are most vulnerable to closing due to a number of things including revenue and lack of Medicaid expansion. Howard says hospitals are having to do more with less.

"Our hospitals spend a lot of time and they do remarkable things despite some of the cuts to reimbursement in different areas that help them sustain, but there comes a point in time that you can no longer absorb any more cuts,” Howard said.

The closest hospital from Carrollton is about 35 minutes away in Columbus, Mississippi or people can go to DCH in Tuscaloosa which is about 45 minutes away from the Pickens County Medical Center.

We got this statement from Governor Kay Ivey’s office on the closure:

"While the closing of a medical facility is unfortunate, the governor's administration will continue to prioritize finding creative solutions and having conversations to help improve access to quality health care in all areas of the state."

Senator Doug Jones says his thoughts are with the people of Pickens County:

“This is a real loss for the Pickens County community, and my prayers are with all the folks who have lost their jobs or the access to health care they relied on. This should be yet another a wakeup call that it’s past time to take action to save Alabama’s hospitals. My team and I have been working closely with other members of the congressional delegation to find long-term solutions to help rural hospitals like Pickens County Medical Center stay open, but there is a clear step our state leaders could take that would help: expanding Medicaid. I sincerely hope that no other community has to suffer their hospital closing its doors because of our inability to put partisan differences aside and work together to save our rural hospitals.”

Senator Richard Shelby’s office tells us rural health remains one of his top priorities:

“Throughout the past several years, Senator Shelby has been involved in efforts to assist Pickens County Medical Center. In 2018, Senator Shelby led efforts to ensure that Pickens County Medical Center was selected to participate in the Delta Regional Authority Health Systems Development Program, which provided $2 million in grant funding for technical assistance to help strengthen and increase the efficiencies and operations of health care facilities in rural communities over a three-year period.”

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