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Impact of Rural Hospital Closures on Health-Care Access

Published:October 01, 2020DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jss.2020.08.055

      Abstract

      Background

      Access to health care is an important issue, particularly in remote areas. Since 2010, 106 rural hospital have closed in the United States, potentially limiting geographic access to health care. The aim of this study was to evaluate the impact of these hospital closures on the proportion of the population who can reach a secondary care facility, by road, within 15, 30, 45, or 60 min.

      Methods

      Geographical information system analysis, using population data obtained from the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau and hospital data between 2010 and 2019 from the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, created 15-, 30-, 45-, and 60-min drive time isochrones (areas from which a central location can be reached within a set time).

      Results

      Rural hospital closures resulted in 0%-0.97% of the population no longer being able to access a hospital within 15 min. The most marked changes were in the East South Central (0.97%, 178,478 residents) and West South Central (0.54%, 197,660 residents) divisions. Lesser degrees of change were noted for longer drive times. The changes were more marked when the rural population was analyzed exclusively.

      Conclusions

      Recent closures of rural hospitals in the United States have impacted population access to hospital care, although the extent varies. There are regions, such as the Southern and Southeastern United States, which demonstrate greater and potentially more concerning losses in population coverage, probably because of the greater number of closures. Future work should evaluate clinical implications of hospital closures and loss of population coverage.

      Keywords

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