Rural healthcare does more than bring medical care to patients in sparsely populated areas – healthcare can bring vitality to rural communities.
Rural hospitals are frequently one of the largest employers in rural communities, and jobs at hospitals are among the best positions in these areas. Decent wages and comfortable rural lifestyles attract qualified doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to live and spend money in the community.
Physicians Bring Value to Rural Communities
About 20 percent of the population lives in rural areas, yet only about 10 percent of all physicians practice in these isolated communities. The uneven distribution of physicians restricts ease of access for patients and increases workloads for doctors practicing in rural healthcare settings. The patient-to-primary care physician ratio in urban areas is 53.3 physicians per 100,000 people, whereas the ratio is only 39.8 physicians per 100,000 in rural areas.
The lack of doctors in rural areas robs these areas of much-needed resources aside from basic medical care. Physicians support their local communities by creating jobs, purchasing goods and services, and through taxes. A report published by the American Medical Association (AMA) says that each physician creates an average of 13.84 jobs and contributes to the addition of 10 million jobs in the U.S. Furthermore, physicians contribute to $65.2 billion in local and state tax revenues nationwide, with each physician contributing an average of $90,449 in local and state taxes.
Medical doctors also support greater economic output than legal services, higher education, and some other occupations within the healthcare industry. In fact, every dollar applied to physician services supports another $1.62 in other business.
Hospitals and Rural Healthcare Organizations Help Local Communities Thrive
The employment opportunities and economic benefits of rural healthcare are extremely important to the financial well-being of a community. Hospitals offer some of the highest paying, most stable jobs. Second only to education, hospitals are often one of the largest employers in a rural community. About 10 to 15 percent of jobs in rural communities are in healthcare, according to the National Center for Rural Health Works.
Because of the number of high-paying jobs hospitals create and sustain, hospital closures can cause a domino effect within the rural community as a large percent of residents lose their income. Once a community loses its hospital, other health services are likely to leave. Hospital closure can force hospital workers and employees at pharmacies, physical therapy facilities, medical offices and other ancillary health service organizations to leave the community for jobs in other areas.
Benefits of Local Services and Critical Access Hospitals
Hospitals that offer key services, such as a dialysis center, allow residents to receive care within the community rather than having to travel to urban facilities. This keeps spending local, as patients and families patronize local grocery and general merchandize stores instead of spending money at faraway hotels and restaurants in urban settings.
Critical access hospitals are particularly important to rural communities. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services began designating certain hospitals as critical access hospitals after a string of hospital closures in the 1980s and 1990s, which left many rural areas without adequate health care. Critical access hospitals must have fewer than 25 acute care beds and be located more than 35 miles from another hospital, with some exceptions. By keeping essential services in rural areas, critical access hospitals are essential to reducing financial vulnerability of rural hospitals and improving access to healthcare.
The typical critical access hospital employs 141 people and generates $6.8 million in wages, salaries, and benefits. These facilities serve an area population of about 14,600.
The economic benefits of critical access hospitals go beyond healthcare workers – they provide jobs in other industries and generate millions in wages, salaries, and benefits for those jobs. One critical access hospital generates about 195 jobs and $8.4 million from hospital operations, and another 53 jobs and $1.9 million from construction investments. For every critical access hospital job, another .038 job is created in other industries and businesses within the local economy.
Rural Healthcare Providers and Their Communities – a Symbiotic Relationship
Healthcare organizations and the rural communities they serve have a symbiotic relationship. Thriving rural communities can support effective healthcare for its residents by attracting quality healthcare professionals with higher wages and attractive amenities, such as fresh air, a great view and small town living. Rural communities that enjoy greater economic resources financially support their healthcare system through higher rates of health insurance coverage, philanthropic giving, and investments in infrastructure that benefit healthcare.
In return, a high-quality healthcare system keeps residents healthy enough to continue working and contributing financially to the local community. Healthcare systems also support economic growth and community development.
Collaboration between rural healthcare providers and the community can complement services in rural areas. Cooperation between the two sectors can also address population health issues specific to the rural community, such as greater tobacco use rate among youth, more frequent occurrences of diabetes and coronary heart disease, and higher risk of injury-related deaths, while providing healthcare providers with the comfortable amenities of rural living.