Elehwany offers a handful of effective talking points:
- Rural providers are a safety net for about 20% of the nation's population. Serving this generally poorer, older and sicker demographic requires more federal funding because there is no place to cost shift. It is not hyperbole to say that when rural hospitals close, people will die.
- Rural healthcare is cost effective. "Only an infinitesimally small portion of the federal budget is spent on rural healthcare providers but it's a good bang for the buck," Elehwany says. "It is 3.7% less expensive to treat the identical procedure in a rural community when compared with a suburban or urban community and the reason is that everything in rural is based on primary care."
- Rural hospitals are economic engines for the areas they serve. "If you close that rural hospital or if you force a physician to leave a rural community you are taking a huge economic component out of that community," Elehwany says. "The hospital is often the largest employer in a rural community. If your critical access hospital closes, you lose on average 107 jobs instantly, and that isn't even talking about the ancillary jobs from linen services to restaurants in the areas. And when the hospital closes, the doctors are the next to go and then the pharmacists are the next to go. What business is going to relocate or what family or retiree will stay in a rural community if there isn't some type of quality healthcare?"
Elehwany notes that the last two Congresses have sworn in huge freshman classes in both the House and Senate so they may not completely understand the pressures you are under. Make sure that they do. Send them a letter. Call them on the telephone. Invite them to tour your hospital and meet staff and talk with patients and community leaders to talk about the role that your hospital plays in their lives.
Rural providers have a strong case. You just have to make sure Congress hears you.
John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.