More than a dozen of Alabama's 51 rural hospitals at immediate risk of closing

The Alabama Hospital Association has warned that more than a dozen of the state's rural hospitals are at immediate risk of closing, which would force large, urban hospitals to deal with increased capacity issues, local news outlet WAFF reported Feb. 15. 

Hospitals in Alabama have lost $1.5 billion since 2020 — more than any other state since the start of the pandemic. That figure would have swelled to $2.4 billion without federal stimulus funds. However, in 2022, Alabama hospitals recorded their highest annual loss, at $738 million.

"The reality is we've got some hospitals that simply won't make it," Donald Williamson, MD, director of the Alabama Hospital Association, told WAFF

More rural hospital closures would have a significant effect on the health of these communities, with people having to drive further for their care. "They're going to present later in the course of their illness, they're going to have more advanced disease," Dr. Williamson said.

Small towns and urban hospitals may also feel the pinch by having to treat more patients, according to Wes Stubblefield, MD, a medical officer with the Alabama Department of Public Health.

"Any of these larger referral facilities will feel the impact of smaller hospitals closing because they will get more patients, they will have to accommodate the need, which will then further consolidate care into these larger facilities," Dr. Stubblefield told WAFF. "The brunt of this falls on the population."

The closure of rural hospitals — which are often the largest employer in an area — also has significant economic implications as people in those communities lose jobs. 

Alabama has 51 rural hospitals that provide care to 2 million people a year, according to the Alabama Hospital Association. Forty-four percent of Alabamians depend on rural hospitals for their care while 14 percent of employment in rural areas is attributed to healthcare.

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