By Representative Cresent Hardy (NV-4)
Over the past few years, there has been no lack of discussion from either side of the aisle about employer and individual mandates, medical device and “Cadillac” taxes and the Affordable Care Act as a whole. However, one of the most important issues facing our health care system receives very little attention from government or the media – rural emergency care.
Medical professionals have agreed that in the event of a heart attack, stroke or other medical emergency, every second counts. The longer it takes a patient to receive care, the higher the risk of long term, costly damage.
Most Americans don’t give a second thought about the location of the nearest hospital. However, the many seniors who live in rural communities across our country do not have that luxury. In these communities, the closest hospital may also be the only hospital for hundreds of miles.
One prime example of this serious problem can be found in my home district in Nevada. The devastating closure of the Nye Regional Medical Center now forces many of my constituents to travel 100 miles or more to receive the emergency services they need.
While I highlight this one facility in Nevada, it does not represent the beginning or the end of the problem. Access to care has become even harder for rural communities over the past few years. According to a recent University of North Carolina report, 59 rural hospitals have closed in the last five years alone. Many other facilities are experiencing the same struggles as those who have had to shutter their doors and may soon follow suit.
Unfortunately for seniors and all of the people who live in rural communities, very few who can make a difference are giving this issue the attention it deserves. At the time of writing, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has failed to release a report to Congress on rural hospital closures in over 12 years. In 2003, the year of the last report, HHS identified that nearly eight percent of all rural hospitals had closed between the year 1990 and 2000. Clearly this is not an issue that goes away simply by ignoring it.
I look forward to a new report from HHS on the health of rural hospitals across the country so Congress can begin work on legislation such as grants and reimbursement payments to address this problem.