Slamming Doors on Rural Hospital Care

Chuck Norris on

While final statistics have yet to be revealed for New Year's Eve, it is a good bet that they will show a sharp uptick in emergency room visits beginning around midnight. Long before that hour, one regional facility in Madison, Wisconsin reported more people coming in with influenza or from accidents slipping on ice. On the night itself, Dr. Kyle Martin, the medical director at SSM Health's emergency room, estimated they would likely be about 20% busier than average before the night shift was over.

At Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, New York, emergency medical center physician Dr. Dean Olsen said the number of trauma patients can double or triple compared to a typical night in the emergency room. The bulk of those are likely to be patients involved in motor vehicle accidents or assaults.

That said, New Year's Eve is hardly the ER's most dangerous day of the year. That distinction goes to the Fourth of July.

According to a new Pew Research Center analysis of 2000-2018 injury data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, on average, more than 45,000 people visit U.S. hospital emergency rooms for treatment of injuries on July 4 and 5.

Almost every large hospital has an emergency room, and there are an estimated 5,000 or so hospital emergency departments around the country. Many a family's or an individual's journey to a hospital begins in the emergency department.

What if your community had no hospital? What if there was no emergency room easily reachable? What if your community had lost such a vital resource?


This is exactly the scenario that is playing out in rural communities across the country. Nearly 20 rural hospitals closed their doors in 2019, more closures than any year in the past decade. This trend is expected to continue.

What happens, for example, when a 70-year-old grandfather slips on an icy sidewalk and is now forced to choose between staying home and driving to the closest emergency department 30 miles away? When the only road is a two-lane highway jammed with rush hour traffic, and the cellphone service is spotty? What if there is no longer a local place to deliver a baby? Also, how will the hospital's closure affect the town's economy?

Sadly, in many parts of the country, the answers to these questions are playing out in real time.

Mayo Clinic recently announced the closure of facilities in Springfield and Lamberton in southwestern Minnesota early next year. The Mayo Clinic has closed or consolidated at least 16 facilities in southern Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa since 2009. Among the reasons given are difficulty in attracting and retaining doctors at these locations and facilities being underutilized.


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Copyright 2020 Creators Syndicate, Inc.


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