© 2024 Ideastream Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Rural hospital closures pose health, economic challenges for Ohio

A brick building with a metal awning and gabled roof. Large signs read "Premier Health" and "Upper Valley Medical Center."
Courtesy of Premier Health
The Upper Valley Medical Center closed its labor and delivery unit earlier this year. Its one of six maternity wards in rural Ohio to close in the last two years.

Access to healthcare in rural Ohio is dwindling. Earlier this year, Kettering Health in Piqua closed its emergency services department. And Premier Health in Troy shut down its labor and delivery unit.

It’s just one of six rural maternity wards in Ohio that have shuttered in the last two years.

The Center for Healthcare Quality and Payment Reform says five others are under threat of closure.

Ngozi Cole is the Business and Economics Reporter for Ohio Newsroom member station WYSO. She joined Today from The Ohio Newsroom to discuss the closures.

On how recent closures in southwest Ohio impact health care access

"During my reporting, I spoke to a local leader, Commissioner Simmons of Miami County, and he said that what this means is that anyone that's pregnant in Miami County is going to have to drive at least 15 miles to have a baby. And to be able to use a maternity services medicine, in order to deliver a baby, it's now definitely become much harder."

On the specific challenges of providing health care in small towns

There's definitely a high need in rural areas, but [there's] low populations and they might be scattered across [the area]. And so hospitals feel like, 'Well, we have all of these, services, but not that many people are using that.'

And then staffing is also an issue. There's a tremendous workforce crisis going on all across the United States, but rural areas are more impacted in a disproportionate way. When I spoke with Women's Health, they mentioned that the ObGyn providers were leaving. They're having issues with recruiting and keeping staff. And so it's really difficult for them to keep providing these services if they just don't have, providers to work with.

And then there's also this issue of overcoming low reimbursement, where they feel as though they are not being reimbursed adequately under these health insurance systems to keep opening their doors and providing these services."

On the economic importance of hospitals

"One thing that Commissioner Simmons, the local leader for Miami County, said to me was that they want to attract young families, but they are afraid that young families will not come to live in Miami County if they don't have a full service hospital. I also spoke to someone from the National Rural Health Association who also echoed this concern. He said that a health care facility in a rural area can account for 20% of the rural economy."

On possible solutions

"There's a lot of advocacy being done just to address the staffing gap, especially, the National Rural Health Association has been working with, people in Congress to try to lobby and make the situation a bit better.

One of the key ones is the Rural Physician Workforce Protection Act. It will incentivize physicians to do their residency and their training at local rural hospitals, and this will improve Medicare reimbursements and enhance the current structure of Medicare-funded graduates, to bring more medical residents and doctors to rural areas."

This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.