Alabama Hospital Association: Over a dozen rural hospitals at immediate risk of closing

WAFF 48's Sean Dowling speaks to state health leaders about rural hospitals potentially closing in Alabama.
Published: Feb. 15, 2023 at 6:23 AM CST
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Over a dozen rural Alabama hospitals are at immediate risk of closing. That’s according to a new report commissioned by the Alabama Hospital Association. An official with the Alabama Hospital Association would not name any of the current at-risk locations at this time.

Larger, urban hospitals might feel the crunch of patients if these rural hospital close up shop.

Dr. Don Williamson, the president of the Alabama Hospital Association explains the situation is pretty dire, and patients as well as entire communities can suffer. “I think the reality is we’ve got some hospitals that simply won’t make it,” Dr. Williamson said.

Dr. Don Williamson explains state hospitals have lost $1.5 billion dollars since the start of the pandemic.

Hospitals closing for good means people in rural areas would have to drive farther for health care. Dr. Williamson sees another serious issue regarding patients and potential hospital closures. “They’re going to present later in the course of their illness, they’re going to have more advanced disease,” Dr. Williamson said.

It’s not just patients who would be impacted if the rural hospitals close, it’s small towns, and urban hospitals that will have to take on more people.

That’s something that concerns Dr. Wes Stubblefield 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 said. “The brunt of this falls on the population.”

WAFF 48 pressed Dr. Williamson on the specific Alabama hospitals that are at risk of closing, but he wouldn’t disclose that information for a simple reason.

“If people believe that their hospital is on the verge of closure, staff start looking for other jobs,” Dr. Williamson said.

Speaking of jobs, closing up shop could have a huge economic impact on these small communities as well.

“In many counties, rural hospitals are the largest employer or the second largest employer in the area,” Dr. Williamson said. “So if they close, you’ve just lost a lot of jobs.”

Both health leaders explain rising labor costs, supplies, and patients staying longer because they’re more ill makes it harder for hospitals to meet their bottom line.

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