A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that mortality rates are on the rise at rural hospitals. According to a Kaiser Health News article, the study found that since 2002, mortality rates at critical access hospitals for Medicare patients with heart attacks, heart failure and pneumonia have increased in relation to other hospitals.
While mortality rates at other hospitals dropped by 0.2 percent a year, reaching 11.4 percent in 2010, mortality rates at critical access hospital rose about 0.1 percent each year, reaching 13.3 percent in 2010. Critical access hospitals also did worse than other small, rural hospitals that were not in the critical access program.
Critical access hospitals refer to hospitals enrolled in the federal government’s critical access program, which was started by Congress in 1997 to keep hospitals from closing in areas where residents would have no other place to go in an emergency. Hospitals enrolled in the program benefit from full reimbursement, plus one percent, for the costs of treating Medicare patients. They are also exempted from certain financial pressures and requirements to report patient outcomes.
Rural health organizations point out that these critical access hospitals often operate under more challenging conditions than others. Critical access hospitals are less likely to have the latest medical technology or specialists, and that their populations are increasingly elderly and sick.
Groups on both sides of the issue seem to agree that no matter the reason, this study may be a sign that the hospitals may need additional help in the future.