CEO Messages

National Conference Shines Light on Financial Struggle of Rural Hospitals

California’s nearly five dozen rural hospitals provide care to more than 2 million people and are both lifelines and economic pillars for the communities they serve. However, many of these hospitals are on the financial brink, reducing services just to stay open or facing the possibility of closure. 

Since 2019, 50% of rural hospitals have operated in the red. Nearly two-thirds of critical access hospitals (rural hospitals that serve communities located at least 35 miles from another medical facility) have also been operating at a deficit. In fact, two California hospitals (Corcoran District Hospital and Madera Community Hospital) have been forced to close in the past 10 years. 

Hospital Council recently attended the American Hospital Association’s 2024 Rural Health Care Leadership Conference in Orlando, Florida, where we discussed significant rural legislative and regulatory issues: 

  • Funding and reimbursement: Ensuring adequate and fair reimbursement rates for rural hospitals is essential to their financial viability, especially considering the unique challenges they face in serving patients across a wide geography. 
  • Workforce shortages: Addressing the shortage of health care professionals — such as physicians, nurses, and specialized staff — is critical to maintaining high-quality care in rural hospitals. 
  • Telehealth policies: Advocating for favorable telehealth policies can help rural hospitals extend their reach, provide remote consultations, and improve access to health care services. 
  • Regulatory challenges: Streamlining and reducing regulatory requirements allows rural hospitals to focus precious resources (time and money) on patient care. 

The challenges discussed at the conference reinforce rural health care’s place as a top advocacy priority for CHA and Hospital Council. Hospital Council is committed to protecting the access to care provided by rural hospitals because everyone deserves access to reliable, quality health care. These discussions will continue at the CHA Rural Health Care Symposium on March 4-5 in San Diego, California.