Rural Hospital Closures
Rural hospitals are closing at an alarming rate.
In recent years, many policies have chipped away at the rural health safety net that ensures that people living in remote areas still have access to healthcare.
It is especially important that the rural healthcare system functions well, since the health of rural Canadians doesn’t measure up to that of urban dwellers. They tend to have less healthy habits, are more likely to be overweight, and have a shorter life expectancy than their city counterparts. They also make up a significant portion of the population, at 2% of Canadians.
Rural hospitals closing is not a new issue in Canada. The Ontario government closed and merged hospitals amid the recession of the 1990s. At the same time, Saskatchewan stopped funding 52 rural hospitals, which all had an average occupancy of less than 8 patients a day. Many of them turned into health centres.
Ultimately if rural hospitals are going to continue to exist, then they have 2 options; to give them more resources, or leave the status quo and accept that there are going to be differences in the quality of care.
An important question in this issue is, how small is small? The Ontario governments Rural and Northern Health Care Report defines rural as a town of less than 30,000, more than 30 minutes away from any town of more than 30,000.
Distance to emergency care is a common concern of residents due to travelling longer distances to emergency centres increases the chance of mortality.
A report on rural hospitals in Alberta found most extra small hospitals had higher costs, about 15% more than larger ones and that they were more likely to operate below 75% capacity.
But while closing hospitals may lower health care costs, it may also have a negative economic impact on the region, reducing the number of health care jobs as well as others in the community.