Community at Risk: The Closing of Rural and Community Hospitals in Light of a Pandemic

4 mins read
Photo by Hans Eiskonen on Unsplash

When business becomes a society’s driving moral code, the only thing that matters is profit. When you commodify everything, including the basic essentials, then nothing has a value outside of its price point. We’ve become so accustomed to this concept that some of us don’t even notice it anymore.

For many years, there has been a slow and steady decomposition of all the little joys  and comforts that were once staples of the American experience, including Main Street U.S.A., Mom and Pop Shops, and community hospitals. While these are far from the only examples of this phenomenon, the last one has taken on a whole new meaning in light of the coronavirus.

Our society has conglomerated and corporately merged ourselves out of lifesaving beds and breathing treatments for some of the most vulnerable communities of our country. In 2018, 64 hospitals  (Hospitals Closing Across US Leave Patients With No Options) shut their doors in rural areas due to the populations being too poor or elderly to possess the proper insurance or population numbers to be able to keep themselves funded and staffed. While there are programs to help keep these hospitals alive—e.g., Federal Office of Rural Health Policy (Hospital Closings Likely to Increase), they clearly aren’t being allocated enough funds, since reports state that between 8 and 10 percent of hospitals are either weak or in danger of closing their doors (Hospitals Closing Across US Leave Patients With No Options).

In the middle of a global pandemic, this statistic really highlights the phenomenon as a special kind of madness. Every day in the news, we are being told that social distancing is paramount to keeping the viral spread within the realm of manageable by health care providers and facilities, and while this is certainly important how can a government preach such precautionary measures when they have allowed over 100 hospitals to close since 2010. These were viable facilities, with resources and staff that were shut down because their populations were too old or too poor to turn a profit. Of course, these people didn’t just disappear. Their medical needs were shifted to the nearest large facility which had to shoulder the strain of caring for a whole region, and will now have to carry the weight of pandemic victims in addition to their usual patient population.

Additionally studies show (Rural hospital closings cause mortality rates to rise, study finds) that mortality rates can rise 5.9% among communities where rural hospitals close, and those numbers do not reflect the fatality rates among coronavirus patients. So, the question begs—what can we do to fix this broken system going forward? That depends entirely on how we vote in this coming election. Do we want to live in a country that closes hospitals, instead of opening them? This pandemic may seem like a fluke, but it’s a symptom of a greater issue at work. Until we learn to place value on life, and the quality of those living it, profit will continue to grow as populations, our communities, begin to shrink. 

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