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Hospital closings hit hard on the edge of the Rust Belt

Associated Press, Wheeling, WV, September 8, 2019
Ohio Valley Medical Center employee Carrie Jones is shown Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019, outside of the hospital in Wheeling, W.Va. The hospital and sister facility East Ohio Regional Hospital in Martins Ferry, Ohio, are closing after two years of ownership
Ohio Valley Medical Center employee Carrie Jones is shown Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019, outside of the hospital in Wheeling, W.Va. The hospital and sister facility East Ohio Regional Hospital in Martins Ferry, Ohio, are closing after two years of ownership by Irvine, California-based Alecto Healthcare Services.

Carrie Jones is looking for work for the first time in two decades. She’s even more worried about what will happen to her psychiatric patients.  “Where are they going to go?” Jones said. “We’re honestly like their family.”

Jones is among nearly 1,100 employees being laid off at Ohio Valley Medical Center in Wheeling and sister facility East Ohio Regional Hospital in nearby Martins Ferry, Ohio.

The layoffs are the latest blow to a region on the edge of the Rust Belt that hasn’t fully benefited from the economic recovery that President Donald Trump — who attended a private campaign fundraiser in Wheeling in July — has touted. The area had managed to hang on after steel mills and other manufacturing plants closed, in part by forging a new identity as a health care hub.

But after two years of ownership, Irvine, California-based Alecto Healthcare Services announced both hospitals will close by next month. The company cited several factors, including losses of more than $37 million since taking over, increasing facility improvement needs and the lack of a potential partner or buyer, including a cross-town hospital.

Acute and emergency admissions were suspended Wednesday night at OVMC, where workers held an emotional candlelight vigil just before midnight.

The Appalachian hilltop region’s economy has steadily eroded in recent decades, a trend forecasters expect to continue. Steel mills farther north were shuttered long ago. Aluminum and other manufacturing plants in Ohio left as well.

As the jobs went, so have residents. The population in the three-county area on either side of the river about an hour west of Pittsburgh has fallen steadily since the early 1980s, including a 5.3 percent drop from 2010 to 2018.

Powered by a natural gas fracking boom, employment rebounded after the Great Recession. But a 2018 report by West Virginia University researchers said the area would need “a significant positive economic shock” to halt long-term declines.

North of Wheeling, a natural gas-fired power plant is planned on a reclaimed coal strip mine but would create only 30 permanent jobs. In Ohio, a petrochemical plant proposed in Belmont County has languished in the planning stages for years.

A block away from OVMC, the 166-year-old Centre Market District is filled with restaurants and shops that cater to hospital workers and patients’ families. Some business owners said they will be affected by the hospital closing but are prepared to handle it.

A few miles east, Wheeling Hospital is one of the state’s top 10 private employers. In Ohio, three of Belmont County’s top employers are hospitals. Doctors who work at the two hospitals will be forced to go elsewhere.

Read the entire article here.

Fewer U.S. Households Are Going Hungry, But Cuts In Food Aid Loom

Millions of families in the U.S. struggled to get enough food to eat last year, but conditions appear to be getting better as the economy improves.

In a new report released Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says that about 11 percent of households — just over 14 million — had trouble putting enough food on the table last year and that in about 4 percent of households, someone went hungry because there was not enough money to buy food.

While the numbers are high, they have steadily dropped in recent years and the government says that the level of what it calls food “insecurity” is finally back to where it was before the Great Recession began in 2007.

“That’s good news,” says Rachel Merker of First Focus, a group that advocates for children and families. But she and other anti-hunger advocates worry that the new numbers will be used to justify cuts in government aid. They say that hunger is still a problem, especially among certain vulnerable groups. “It’s important to note that children are disproportionately living in food insecure households,” Merker says.

Primary Care Practice Improvement Tools for Change

The EvidenceNOW Model for supporting primary care practice improvement originated from a multiyear Agency for Health Research and Quality (AHRQ) grant initiative designed to advance the adoption of clinical and organizational evidence in small- and medium-sized primary care practices. AHRQ seeks to spread the EvidenceNOW Model by sharing carefully selected tools and resources used in EvidenceNOW and other quality improvement (QI) initiatives. EvidenceNOW Tools for Change can help primary care practices, as well as practice facilitators and others who support practices, make changes to build their capacity to engage in quality improvement and implement the best evidence. Those interested in practice improvement can also attend the Setting the Foundation for Teamwork in Your Practice using the AHRQ TeamSTEPPS session during the PACHC Annual Conference & Clinical Summit. You will learn how to form a change team to lead teamwork efforts as well as how to assess your environment for strengths, barriers, and readiness for change.

AHEC Scholars Program 

Students in a health profession training program can apply to participate in a new two-year competitive AHEC Scholars program. Pennsylvania’s Area Health Education Center (AHEC) is starting with a 2019-2021 cohort of students to receive additional didactic and interprofessional clinical experiences as they learn more about urban and rural underserved health. Read more and find the application on the AHEC Scholar website.

U.S. Poised to Lose Measles Elimination Status

There’s a “reasonable chance” the United States will lose its measles elimination status in October because of ongoing measles outbreaks in New York, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. When the World Health Organization declared in 2000 that the U.S. had eliminated measles, it was hailed as one of the biggest public health achievements in the nation’s history.

Physician Opinions of ACA on the Rise

A new study, led by researchers of the Mayo Clinic and reported in the Journal of Health Affairs, finds that the majority of U.S. physicians now support the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Physicians see the ACA as a “net positive” for the U.S. health care system, according to the study. The study shows an 11% upward swing in physician opinion about the ACA over five years.  Most major physician groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Physicians have opposed efforts by the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress to derail the ACA.

“Walmart Health” – A New Primary Care Venture

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, is moving deeper into the primary care and mental health market, opening a new clinic called Walmart Health in Georgia. The company recently updated its website with a link to Walmart Health and also went online with the site “,” where patients can set up appointments. Walmart is testing the concept with this initial clinic that will give patients access to comprehensive and low-cost primary care, including for mental health issues. The website indicates that the company will offer primary care, dental, counseling, labs, X-rays and audiology, among other services. Walmart is already one of the largest pharmacy companies in the U.S., offering in-store sections for prescription drugs in almost all of its 4,700 locations across the U.S. The company said health and wellness, which includes pharmacy, clinical and optical services, accounted for about 9%, or $36 billion, of its roughly $332 billion in U.S. sales last fiscal year. Walmart’s distinct opportunity is that roughly 140 million people visit its stores every week, and it has about 1.5 million U.S. employees spread across cities of all sizes, including in rural areas where there’s a shortage of health-care services.

Pennsylvania Increases Conditions Eligible for Medical Marijuana to 23

Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana in 2016, allowing it to be used to treat 17 medical conditions. That list has now grown to include 23 conditions. Eligible conditions now include anxiety disorder, ALS, autism, cancer, Crohn’s disease, damage to nervous tissue of the spinal cord, dyskinetic and spastic movement disorders, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Huntington’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, intractable seizures, multiple sclerosis, neurodegenerative diseases, neuropathies, opioid use disorder, Parkinson’s, PTSD, severe chronic or intractable pain, sickle cell anemia, terminal illness and Tourette syndrome. Someone with one of the conditions must have it certified by a doctor who is state-approved to obtain a card enabling them to buy medical marijuana at a medical marijuana dispensary.

Pennsylvania Is a State-Based Exchange Using a Federal Platform for 2020

On July 2, 2019, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed House Bill 3 (now Act 42 of 2019) into law to create a state-based exchange (SBE) in Pennsylvania and begin a two-year transition from the current federally-facilitated Marketplace through to the SBE. Full transition to the SBE is slated for the 2021 Open Enrollment period and at that time the commonwealth will host its own website, navigator programs, call center and marketing and outreach. For this 2020 transition year, PACHC has been awarded sole state funding to operate the Navigator Program under the Pennsylvania Health Insurance Exchange Authority. Since implementation of the ACA in 2010, Pennsylvania has relied on the federal health insurance exchange. To cover costs, the federal government charged insurers a 3.5 percent fee on premiums paid by ACA enrollees each month, a projected $98 million for Pennsylvania insurers in 2019. This user fee is expected to be cut to 3% beginning in 2020, decreasing the amount to approximately $88 million. Pennsylvania will continue to use to enroll consumers for 2020 coverage, to calculate premium tax credits and to enroll consumers eligible for special enrollment periods.