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Services cut after rural hospital mergers, study finds

An October study by Health Affairs found that while mergers and acquisitions may provide more financial stability to hospitals, they also often cut less profitable service lines like maternal, neonatal and surgical care, potentially harming rural residents.

The study identified 172 rural hospitals that merged between 2009 and 2016 in 32 states and compared them with 549 hospitals that remained independent.

In addition to cutting maternal, neonatal and surgical care, the study also found that stays for mental health and substance use disorder from the catchment areas of merged hospitals decreased or remained stable. Meanwhile, stays increased in the comparison hospitals, showing that merged hospitals may not be meeting a community need.

Merged facilities were also less likely to be critical-access hospitals, held more beds, were more likely to be privately owned and were more likely to be located in a metropolitan area.

"Payer-supported, multistakeholder initiatives to transform rural health care to be both financially sustainable and responsive to population needs are necessary for rural hospitals to retain high-quality service lines required by their communities," the study said.

Read more here.

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