Residents of a rural Tennessee community are closely watching the results of a unique health care crowdfunding effort. With a goal of $100,000, the GoFundMe campaign is hoping to rescue the local hospital.
Along with one-third of rural hospitals across the nation, Copper Basin Medical Center, the only hospital in Polk County, Tenn., is on the endangered list. The hospital recently suspended its inpatient care, while keeping the emergency room and outpatient services open for business. But for how long?
Rural hospitals face common problems
Copper Basin suffers from a debilitating set of problems, typical of many small, rural hospitals:
- declining inpatient volumes
- older, sicker populations
- a high percentage of Medicare and Medicaid patients, whose care is reimbursed at relatively low rates
- competition from large, urban hospital systems with shiny new facilities and the latest technology.
Making matters worse, many at-risk rural hospitals are in states that did not expand Medicaid. Expanding Medicaid in many states has resulted in thousands of new paying customers for rural hospitals.
Innovation is the key to rural hospital survival
To stay afloat, rural hospitals have been getting creative. We’ve blogged previously here and here about strategies that seem to be working. The common thread is innovation: modifying the mix of services from the traditional set of hospital services, partnering with other regional providers to fill in service gaps, developing specialities to address unique health care needs in their communities.
Will crowdfunding join the list of successful strategies for rural hospitals? It’s still early, but the last time I looked, the fund had raised only $5,500 of the $100,000 goal. And, in any case, for most rural hospitals the saddest fact is that the high cost of our health care system is forcing them to panhandle to stay open.