Small Rural Hospitals Face Desperate Financial Crunch - WSPA.com

Small Rural Hospitals Face Desperate Financial Crunch

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Rural independent hospitals struggle to stay afloat in tough financial times. Rural independent hospitals struggle to stay afloat in tough financial times.
UNION, S.C. - Despite cutting millions from the budget, eliminating services and shrinking staff, small rural independent hospitals like Wallace Thompson in Union will struggle to keep the doors open unless they look for much larger regional partners.

“Having the doctor right here is a lot of help because we used to have to drive to Spartanburg," said Emily Harkins who gave birth at Wallace Thompson in November and visited this week for another child’s surgery.

The hospital lost money last year despite cutting $3 million from the budget, cutting the OB/GYN staff from 3 doctors to 1 full time and two part-time, and eliminating orthopedic services.

In an average year, the hospital struggles to fill beds and has about a 28% occupancy rate according to CEO Paul Newhouse.

“If we just stay status quo we won't be here in the next few years. There's no doubt about that. I think that's happening all over the country," Newhouse said.

The hospital is already in talk with possible partners. 

“It's really vital that we find a way to survive here in the community," Newhouse said.

Part of the problem comes from the way healthcare itself is changing.  Fewer patients require inpatient stays.

Hospitals now collect smaller fees from insurers and from Medicare.

Plus, the Affordable Care Act required some expensive upgrades like electronic medical records.

Newhouse said that while the ACA requires more patients to buy health insurance, many poorer patients opt for the less expensive “catastrophic” plans with high deductibles.

He said many patients then find they can’t afford those deductible payments after hospital care.
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