Seeking A Cure: The Quest To Save Rural Hospitals

Many rural hospitals in the U.S. face serious financial problems. More than 110 have closed in less than a decade, and the trend accelerated last year. To examine the personal impact of this crisis, a dozen news organizations, including Side Effects, sent reporters across the Midwest. Our series explores the origins of the problem, as well as potential solutions.

This report is part of a collaboration of 12 newsrooms, led by IowaWatch and the Institute for Nonprofit News, with additional support from the Solutions Journalism Network. For more stories visit hospitals.iowawatch.org

Photo by Mark Zdechlik/Minnesota Public Radio.

Some of the country’s most profound health care challenges are playing out in rural areas struggling with populations that are relatively older and sicker. This is the story of a Minnesota hospital that’s become accustomed to operating in the red.

Photo by Dan Margolies, KCUR

Nine months ago, things were looking bleak for Hillsboro Community Hospital, a 15-bed facility in central Kansas about 50 miles north of Wichita. 

The critical access hospital appeared to be facing the same fate as four other rural hospitals in Kansas that have closed over the past three years. 

Seeking A Cure: The Quest To Save Rural Hospitals

Sep 30, 2019
Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Watch.

Small rural Midwest community hospitals, squeezed by financial and regulatory pressures, are scaling back on services, merging with larger hospital systems and searching for other creative ways to survive in the short term, an Institute for Nonprofit News investigation by 12 news organizations in seven states revealed. 

Rural health experts said in the news investigation the real challenge in this quiet transformation will be to redesign rural health delivery so that residents do not lose access to high quality, timely care.

Photo by Coburn Dukehart/ Wisconsin Watch.

When Ryan Neville was brought on as the chief executive of Memorial Medical Center, the sole hospital serving Clark County, Wis., it could not get a bank loan. 

At that time, in 2013, rural safety net hospitals – those located more than 35 miles from another hospital – had a nationwide average of 69 days of cash reserves. But the Neillsville hospital lost $3 million that year and had enough reserves to pay its expenses for just four days.

Why Rural Hospitals Keep Closing Maternity Wards

Sep 30, 2019
Natalie Krebs/Side Effects Public Media

Jessica Sheridan’s plan was to have her first daughter at the local hospital, five minutes from her house in Iowa Falls.

But when she was seven months pregnant, that plan suddenly changed.

Sebastián Martínez Valdivia / Side Effects Public Media

On a sunny afternoon in Sedalia, Mo., a town between St. Louis and Kansas City, Jennifer and Matt Boatright escorted some unusual visitors into a pasture on their farm. They opened the heavy gate and called their sheep over to meet a half-dozen medical students from the University of Missouri system. 

The farm tour was part of a week-long program designed to introduce future doctors, pharmacists and nurses to rural life.  The goal: Get the students interested in working in rural areas.