Albarez had no choice but to commute 160 miles round trip to
"They don't have anything for cancer patients," she said. "We have a good hospital and we have several doctors for different things. But it's all rural and local. Most of us, if we have major things, we usually come to
"With cancer, you don't have a choice," she said.
The lucky ones
Most have been in the eastern half of the state, while rural hospitals in this region have been left virtually untouched.
"The closures are trending west," said Henderson, CEO of
The closures thus far have been a result of a perfect storm of events, he said.
"It's you take 5 percent
The last rural hospital to close in the South Plains was
"It hurt the city," he said. "At the time, they were the second-largest employer, the school district being the largest."
"We're still in good shape," he said. "We're OK. We do miss the hospital."
Inefficient by nature
The geography of the South Plains poses financial issues because it's so diverse, McBeath said.
"If it's a government hospital and is in a county that has a lot of oil and is receiving a lot of tax revenue from that oil, they're probably in pretty good shape financially," McBeath said. "But if it's in a country that's agriculture-based and virtually no oil revenue, or it may just be a private hospital, they may be sitting on top of oil but it's not government-subsidized. They may be struggling."
There are other resources available, McBeath said, but not every facility is eligible.
The word "rural" is defined differently throughout almost every state department -- posing barriers for some counties in getting federal assistance.
Even when they do receive funding, it's disproportionate, said
So budgets are stretched. Designating money for the health care facilities in rural areas isn't enough to keep their doors open.
McBeath said there's no easy fix.
Rural hospitals act as urgent care centers, clinics and emergency care facilities. Unlike urban hospitals, staff numbers at rural facilities are generally sparse and they're open 24/7 without the guarantee of a patient, he said.
"Sometimes it goes hours with nobody coming in but you know, you've got to be open," he said. "Rural hospitals are inefficient by their nature."
"They're also a source of employment, preventative care and overall community support," Funderburk said. "Patient access would be limited and may not even be attempted. People might forgo care that they normally would have access to. When you have a cutback like that, some people will drive to
Rural hospitals in
It's a 39-bed facility that doubles as a clinic for the town of 6,100.
The geography is not unlike the rural hospitals around
"In most of our counties in this area, once you take out
In turn, that brings an influx of
"Rural communities are generally disproportionately poor and elderly, which means
Keeping a balance
Funderburk said rural hospitals play a vital role in maintaining a balance for urban facilities.
"Without those rural hospitals, the larger hospitals in
UMC, for example, cares for several thousand patients who transfer from regional hospitals for their next level of care, he said.
"These hospitals do a very good job of caring for their communities with pretty limited resources compared to a large academic center like UMC," Funderbunk said. "We do depend on these regional partners very much, not only for referrals, but support when patients return home to them."
The rural hospitals help reduce readmissions and maintain patient capacity.
If a rural hospital in
"There are often days that both us and UMC are full on our medical floors," Beck said. "So we can't afford the cost of building additional beds in
It's also a financial burden, he said.
"We're designed to be a regional tertiary care facility, which means we take the sickest of the sick, the most severely injured," Beck said. "We're designed to take care of the cardiac patients, the neuro-patients, the orthopedic patients ... we're not financially equipped to take care of the lower-level, the lower-acuity patient that is a patient with pneumonia for five days. That type of patient in our hospital is not cost-effective. "
The bottom line, he said, is rural hospitals are a necessity to not just the rural economies, but to urban health care too.
"We need them to stay open," Beck said.
(A-J Media reporters
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