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Rural Hospital Closings are Affecting Reproductive Health Care

Published on February 25, 2020

A view of an emergency entrance to a hospital.
Many hospitals are closing in rural areas because they are not bringing in enough income. Image Credit: US Army, by Reese Brown (via

In some rural communities around the country, where over one-fifth of American women live, the closest hospital with specialized OB-GYN care can be a 100-mile drive away. More than half of rural women live 30 minutes or more from a hospital that provides perinatal care, which could mean the difference between life and death in the event of an emergency or complication. And that gap in care is only growing. Around the country, hospitals in rural areas are closing, and research shows that’s increasing mortality in measurable ways.

Very little research has been conducted into how hospital closures affect women’s health or what the impacts are for people outside of big cities. Previous academic research made it seem like these shutdowns had no significant effect, because it didn’t compare rates in rural and urban areas. A recent study from the University of Washington’s CHOICE Institute is the first to compare the two in California; it found that rural hospital closures were linked to a 5.9% increase in overall patient mortality.

“In urban areas, when a hospital closes, some patients will seek care at outpatient settings,” says Kritee Gujral, Ph.D., a senior fellow at the CHOICE Institute and lead author on the study. “However, this has not been found to be the case for rural areas because there’s a lack of such clinics.” Patients in cities are able to go to another medical facility; countryside patients are less likely to find somewhere else to get care.

Many hospitals just don’t see enough patients, or enough paying patients, to bring in the money they need to stay open. The low number of patients and lack of resources also means that doctors don’t want to work in these places, Hung says. Even though childbirth is the most common reason for hospital stays in the U.S., keeping obstetrics units open is a major challenge because the specialty comes with high costs for staffing and equipment.

Continue reading at Bustle.

Originally written by Leila Barghouty for Bustle.
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