January is a time filled with hope as we look ahead to the new year, but it’s important to reflect on the past so we don’t repeat the same mistakes. Jan. 3, 2024, marked the one-year anniversary of the closure of Madera Community Hospital. As the only general acute care hospital in Madera County, its closure drew attention to the significant financial challenges that most California hospitals face. Before Madera’s closure, many elected officials wrongly believed hospitals were flush with money and too big to fail, but the reality is that an estimated one in five California hospitals is at risk of closure, which means greater difficulty for patients to access health care.
What happened to Madera Community Hospital could happen elsewhere as hospitals in California continue to face major challenges, including:
- A new $25-per-hour minimum wage for health care workers will cost billions more every year.
- A 2030 deadline to ensure every hospital building is fully operational following an earthquake will cost more than $100 billion, and hospitals that fail to meet the deadline will be forced to close.
- Challenges with specific payers on prior authorizations, delays in payments, and lengthy appeals processes.
- A lack of access to post-acute care options translates into longer, unnecessary lengths of stay in hospitals for patients, and higher costs for hospitals.
Adverse health outcomes have been directly attributed to the closing of Madera Community Hospital and three associated rural health clinics. Research shows that rural hospital closures increase inpatient mortality by 8.7%. Already, hospitals in California are being forced to reduce services just to keep their doors open. In California, 27 hospitals have closed labor and delivery services just in the past three years.
Without a solution, care will become more expensive and less accessible (both in terms of timeliness and proximity of providers), and health care inequities will deepen. As we move into the new year with so much financial instability, it’s essential that elected officials and community leaders make a resolution to preserve access to quality health care for all Californians. We don’t want another hospital closure in 2024.