Rural hospitals in Texas are struggling to stay in business, leading to a surge of closures across the state.
Unlike residents of larger metroplexes in Texas, which have increased accessibility to medical facilities for the surrounding populations, rural residents often struggle to find suitable medical care. In fact, Texas currently has the highest rate of rural hospital closures in the country, according to data from The Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research.
Trinity, Texas, is one of these rural towns currently without an operational hospital.
“We have people out on the lake in the summer in the heat, having heart attacks, having accidents, getting snake bites,” said the Vice President for the Trinity Memorial Hospital District Marjory Pulvino. “We did not have an emergency room to take care of those people.”
The absence of a convenient hospital has caused many problems for the surrounding community, especially given that the nearest emergency room is roughly 30 miles away in Huntsville. For specialized medical care, residents in Trinity have to travel nearly 50 miles south to Conroe, Texas, for treatment.
However, Trinity recently announced that MidCoast Health System had leased the vacant hospital. Once construction is completed, the hospital will reopen for emergency care and other services sometime in early 2023.
“The town of Trinity and the surrounding area is lacking medical services, and we are proud to have partnered with Trinity Memorial Hospital District to bring these services back to the community,” said the CEO of MidCoast Health System Nathan Tudor. “We are excited for the expansion of our healthcare services to East Texas and plan to be a part of the community for years to come.”
Still, macroeconomic conditions and the economic environment in the U.S. has caused hospitals to face the burden of added expenses and labor costs. Despite the American Rescue Act’s allocation of $75 million to rural hospitals, many facilities continue to struggle.
This is supported by a recent report by the Texas Hospital Association and Kaufman Hall, which determined that rural hospitals faced a 26% higher risk of closure than non-rural hospitals due to the higher administrative costs.
“We limped into the pandemic, and we’re gonna limp out of it,” said John Henderson, the CEO of the Texas Organization of Rural & Community Hospitals.
There are many reasons why rural hospitals are struggling, said Henderson, who highlighted the shrinking and aging rural population.
“I mean, all of that is just a tough recipe for rural hospitals to survive,” Henderson said.
However, data obtained by Houston Public Media found that no Texas-based rural hospitals have closed since February 2020.
As economic conditions continue to tighten, rural hospitals will need to manage their expenses better as well as eliminate frivolous costs.
“2022 is different,” Henderson said. “There hasn’t been additional stimulus funding. And we’ve seen an explosion of inflationary pressure, supply cost, and workforce issues that make these hospitals vulnerable in a way that they haven’t been for the last two or three years.”