Rural hospital closures add at least 20 miles to patient travel, GAO says

The 101 rural hospital closures from January 2013 to February 2020 have hindered patient access to care, according to a new study conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. 

The GAO was asked by U.S. Senate leaders to examine how rural hospital closures affect residents living in those communities. For its study, the GAO analyzed data from HHS and the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program.

The GAO focused its analysis on the healthcare services offered by 65 rural hospitals that closed and 2,160 hospitals that were open through 2017, for which complete data was available. Read more about the methodology here. 

The GAO found that when rural hospitals closed, patients had to travel about 20 more miles for inpatient care.The median distance to access inpatient services was 3.4 miles in 2012, compared to 23.9 miles in 2018. For services offered by fewer hospitals, such as help for alcohol or drug abuse, the median distance to access care increased 39.1 miles. 

The GAO found that the availability of healthcare professionals per 100,000 residents declined substantially in counties that lost a rural hospital. The availability of physicians dropped from 71.2  physicians per 100,000 residents in 2012 to 59.7 per 100,000 residents in 2018. 

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