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Future hospital closures to come ‘if all things stay the same’

Updated: Mar. 6, 2020 at 3:40 PM CST
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Pickens County Medical Center is the most recent rural hospital to close in Alabama. The Pickens County health care Authority announced earlier this week the hospital would shut down Friday.

Alabama Hospital Association Executive Vice President Danne Howard said more closures are possible. This as Pickens County Medical Center becomes the 17th privately-run hospital to close in the state over the last decade with one of them reopening, according to the association.

“The fact that so many of our rural hospitals are in fragile condition is not new news and something we’ve been talking about for quite some time,” said Howard. “And I do think that we still maintain the position and if all things stay the same, that we will see more in the future.”

Howard said one of the most significant factors to hospital closures is the number of uninsured patients. Hospitals are picking up the tab without receiving full compensation for caring for those without insurance.

This was the case for Pickens County Medical Center which said a large number of uninsured patients, as well as too little patients and a smaller amount of federal funding, contributed to the closure.

The association has continued to stand by Medicaid expansion as the method to address the underlying issue of rural health care deterioration.

State lawmakers said they are in discussions about ways to improve rural health care. Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, represents Pickens County.

“Rural hospitals closing is a direct correlation with the state not expanding Medicaid and rural hospitals know that if there had been an expansion of Medicaid, then there’s possibility of being able to save these hospitals,” Singleton said.

But Medicaid expansion is not popular among Republicans in the state legislature. Many Republicans have questioned how the state would pay for it.

The Alabama Senate passed a bill Thursday that would create nurse apprenticeships in an effort to put more nurses in rural areas. Another bill would provide state income tax credits for physicians who practice in rural areas.

“Certainly extending the tax credit to incentive more physicians in rural areas is beneficial,” said Howard. “There needs to be a robust or a hospital that is there for the physician to use when they need it.”

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon, R- Madison County, said they are looking at ways to help rural hospitals and health care centers.

“There’s no piece of legislation now that fixes the problem," he said. "It’s all about discussions and seeing where we’ve been, where we’re going, and what is some things that we can do to help right now.”

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