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Rural Hospital Closures Put Strain on Nearby Hospitals

In two years following a rural hospital closure, nearby hospitals see increase in emergency department visits and hospital admissions

By Lori Solomon HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Dec. 22, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Following a rural hospital closure, nearby hospitals see increases in emergency department visits and admissions, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine.

Shayann Ramedani, from Penn State University College of Medicine in Hershey, and colleagues assessed how 53 discrete rural hospital closures impacted institutions in their regional proximity. Closures from 2005 to 2016 were identified, and then surrounding hospitals within a 30-mile radius of each closed hospital were identified as “bystander hospitals” (93 hospitals).

The researchers found two-thirds of closures were in the southern United States, including 21 percent in Appalachia. In the two years prior to a hospital’s closure, average emergency department visits increased by 3.59 percent, but at two years after the closure, the average rate of increase rose to 10.22 percent. Furthermore, in the two years preceding a closure, the average bystander hospital admissions fell by 5.73 percent, but increased 1.17 percent in the two years after the closure.

“These findings predict a daunting future for rural health care,” the authors write. “This study suggests a significant spillover effect on hospitals within the geographic region and a cyclical process at play in the rural health care sector.”

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