Today is National Rural Health Day! This is a great opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the amazing work of our rural hospitals and clinics. Washington’s 44 rural hospitals are vital to the health and prosperity of our state. They provide access to vital, high-quality care for the more than 1 million Washingtonians that live, work and recreate across rural Washington.
I like to think about our rural members as of anchors of their communities. As I travel to communities across the state, I’m continually reminded that our rural hospitals are more than just acute care providers. They offer care across the continuum, from EMS services to long-term care, while also providing community classes, meeting space and low-cost lunch options for area seniors. And they are central to local economies. Nationwide, every dollar spent on rural hospitals generates about $2.20 for the local economy.
Yet challenges remain. Eighty rural hospitals have closed nationwide since 2010. A study released last week in the Journal of Rural Health found that while utilization of Medicaid expansion has been greater in rural areas of the country, significant barriers remain related to cost and provider access.
But rural hospitals are nimble problem solvers. Whether it is participating in an Accountable Care Organization, integrating behavioral health, implementing value-based contracts, or forming community partnerships to bring access to housing or transportation, our rurals are innovating to provide better care to their communities. They are vital to the health of their communities and all of Washington State.
Jacqueline Barton True
WSHA Director of Rural Health Programs