Rural hospitals may be geographically isolated from their urban counterparts, but when they shutter, the effects are felt for miles.
A recent study from the Hershey, Pa.-based Penn State College of Medicine has quantified those impacts. Researchers analyzed the average rate of change for inpatient admissions and emergency department visits at bystander hospitals — those within 30 miles of a selected 53 hospitals that closed between 2005 and 2016 — two years before and two years after the nearby closure.
Researchers found that two years prior to a rural hospital closure, bystander hospitals’ emergency department visits increased an average of 3.59 percent. Two years following a closure, emergency department visits increased an average of 10.22 percent.
Similarly, two years prior to a rural hospital closure, bystander hospitals’ average admissions fell by 5.73 percent. Average admissions rose by 1.17 percent in the two years following a closure.
“We know rural areas, especially regions like Appalachia, are at increased risk for diseases of despair including alcoholism, accidental poisonings and suicide,” Jennifer Kraschnewski, MD, director of Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute said in a Dec. 13 Penn State news article. “Increased burden at bystander hospitals and health care institutions may cause these problems to proliferate if other public health interventions aren’t identified and implemented.”
The study results were published in September in the Journal of Hospital Medicine.