Rural hospitals closing as pandemic crisis continues

If three or more significant and similar occurrences signify a trend, the U.S. hospitals that have closed in the heat of the COVID-19 crisis—mostly rural institutions—may be harbingers of things to come.

Here’s a roundup of several such shutterings that have made the local news in their respective areas this month.

April 1—21 Tennessee counties have no hospital as Decatur County loses its lifeline. “Decatur County General Hospital has announced it’s closing its doors. This comes amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a global public health emergency. The Board of Trustees met Tuesday night and voted to close the hospital effective 12:01 a.m. on April 15.” Full story from Fox17 Nashville here.

April 14—Private hospital in Overland Park and its clinics close, citing disruption caused by COVID-19. “Pinnacle Regional Hospital in Overland Park, Kansas, and its satellite clinics have closed their doors and terminated almost all of their employees. … A handful of administrative employees will continue working, but the 100-plus doctors, nurses, therapists and other health workers at the hospital and [its] clinics are expected to be laid off over the next two weeks.” Full story from KCUR 89.3, the NPR affiliate in Kansas City, Missouri, here.

April 20—Suwannee hospital closing amid pandemic. “In the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, a hospital in Suwannee County, Florida, Shands Live Oak, is closing its doors come April 30.” Full story from here.

April 20—Williamson hospital closing Tuesday, with plans to be purchased soon. “The Williamson Memorial Hospital in Mingo County (West Virginia) is prepared to close on Tuesday, while a local health center finalizes plans to purchase the institution. Earlier this month, the Williamson Health and Wellness Center announced its offer to purchase the hospital for $3.68 million. Darrin McCormick, executive assistant and community liaison for the center, said on Monday his employer’s intentions haven’t changed and they hope to have the deal sealed by the end of this month.” Full story from WV Public Broadcasting here.

This week CNN posted an in-depth look at the closings of rural hospitals since 2005. The report shows the COVID-19 crisis didn’t cause the recent spate but may now be quickening its pace.

Meanwhile some large hospitals and health systems are down but making due as the pandemic hits their elective-procedures business hard. This category includes Ochsner Health System, the largest hospital network in Louisiana, and Banner Health, the largest employer in Arizona.