Rural Hospitals In Danger Of Closing

ALBANY- Many of New York’s rural hospitals are in danger of closing unless policy changes are made to strengthen them, according to state Sen. Catharine Young, R-C-I-Olean, who recently led a roundtable discussion with experts from across upstate to discuss solutions.

The session was a joint endeavor between Young, chair of the Commission on Rural Resources, and Sen. Kemp Hannon, R-C-I-Garden City, chair of the Senate Health Committee.

“Access to quality care through our rural hospitals is essential, yet rural hospitals are faced with financial concerns, and must confront a unique set of challenges. Workforce recruitment and retention difficulties have resulted in growing personnel shortages and a current shortfall of over 300 physicians in rural New York. A high volume of uninsured and elderly patients have left rural hospitals strapped for financial resources, and both geographic isolation and weather conditions prevent patients from accessing care,” Young said. “Rural hospitals play an invaluable role in our state’s most underserved areas. Often, they are the largest employer in their geographic regions and they represent the only point of access to care for many New Yorkers,” said Senator Young. “The ties between these healthcare providers and the communities they serve are significant as a community’s viability is directly linked to healthcare access and outcomes, economic development, and employment.”

In light of significant changes being made to healthcare on both the federal and state levels, New York hospitals are being asked to examine the ways they deliver healthcare and are expected to adapt to an ever-changing environment. For the state’s rural providers, this means examining flexible models of healthcare delivery, collaboration with other institutions and the use of innovative healthcare technology – including telehealth and telemedicine, according to Young.

“The Rural Resources Commission has worked extensively to bring telehealth and telemedicine to our communities as the technology represents an opportunity for the most rural areas of the state to capitalize on cutting edge developments. As healthcare continues to evolve, we must evolve with it,” she said.

Healthcare professionals at the roundtable spoke about these important initiatives, as well as other strategies to both reduce costs and improve outcomes in rural communities. CEOs from a number of healthcare facilities were present to share personal experiences and offer suggestions from their time in rural hospitals.

“We are grateful to the Commission and Senate Health Committee for taking the lead on seeking innovative solutions to stabilizing and protecting our fragile healthcare ecosystems across New York state. The significant changes resulting from health reform are going to require a transition strategy that is collaborative, adaptive, graduated, non-destructive, and, one that will successfully link today’s payment and care delivery structures to the health systems of the future. The Roundtable was a great start to what we expect will be an ongoing dialogue around key issues that were identified,” said Ann Morse Abdella, executive director of the Chautauqua County Health Network and a participant in the roundtable.

Young said the discussion was one of many to come.

“These discussions offered the opportunity to raise awareness for the distinct issues plaguing rural hospitals, opening a dialogue which we hope to continue to expand upon in the future.”