Hospitals across rural America are struggling. Hospitals in rural Kansas are more than struggling; they are fighting to stay open and at least 75 of them are in danger of going under. In many communities, hospitals have only been able to hold on because they have been subsidized by individual donors or tax dollars.
The picture has been getting steadily worse for a decade, pushed by a combination of declining population, aging population, reductions in revenues, advancing and ever-more-expensive technology, and a record number of uninsured patients in the midst of a deadly pandemic.
In the coming weeks and months, rural Kansas residents are going to be asked to get involved in a conversation about “The Future of Rural Health Care in Kansas” to help make decisions about changes to local hospitals aimed at keeping services available into the future.
The Kansas Hospital Association has been working since 2012 to develop a new model for the delivery of care that offers rural hospitals greater financial stability, along with lobbying annually to try to convince the state legislature to expand the state’s private Medicare system, KanCare. You can learn more about the model and about other options here (link to 0118F1-2003 once it is live).
KHA is partnering with the Kansas Health Foundation, the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund, and the University of Kansas Public Management Center to offer a series of regional conversations from Feb. 9 to March 4 that will allow residents in six districts to learn more about the new model that has been developed and how it would impact their communities.
The regional meetings will be virtual. There is no charge to register and you can sign up for the meeting in your region here.
The objectives of the regional meetings are to make citizens aware of the current state of the hospital and health delivery system, discuss essential services, learn about options for the future and to identify communities that want to talk more. For those that do, in-person discussions in individual communities will follow when the threat from the coronavirus pandemic has lessened.
In December, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act to provide COVID-19 relief, including a number of provisions to help hospitals and health systems as well as fund the federal government for fiscal 2021.
Among other health care provisions is the establishment of a new Rural Emergency Hospital Medicare designation that will become effective in January 2023. That designation is very similar to a care delivery model that KHA had been working on since 2012, a model it had called a Primary Health Center. Both of those models involve an approach that eliminates in-patient beds in many rural hospitals, but maintains their ability to provide emergency and urgent care 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
It is critically important that as many Kansans as possible participate in these conversations. Every rural community knows how vitally important it is to have access to medical care close to home. Serious decisions have to be made and the wider the range of ideas, the better the final solution can be. So, I urge you to please sign up to attend the discussion in your region.