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Only Hard Work Will Stop Rural Health Crisis In its Tracks

rural healthcare crisis in us
(Sharon Kingston/

Sen. Marsha Blackburn By Saturday, 01 April 2023 09:17 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

"50% of hospitals closing soon  help wanted. No, that’s not just a dismal statement you might find plastered across a billboard along I-40. It’s a grim reality in the Volunteer State, especially for the 1 in 5 Tennesseans living in rural and other underserved areas.

Every day, I hear from Tennesseans who lack the access to health care that many city and suburban dwellers take for granted.

Some are forced to drive miles upon miles to find emergency care. Others wait half a day just to see a doctor.

This problem isn’t unique to Tennessee. A recent study found that "[m]ore than 600 rural hospitals — nearly 30% of all rural hospitals in the country — are at risk of closing in the near future."

These numbers — and the real-world experiences of thousands of Tennesseans — make it clear: addressing the rural health care crisis cannot wait.

That’s why I made it a priority to start this new Congress by reintroducing my Rural Health Care Agenda, a package of bills that directly target these challenges with bipartisan solutions.

During my January visit to the Henry County Medical Center in West Tennessee, officials told me that hiring new staff is becoming increasingly difficult. The pay, benefits, and career opportunities they can offer don’t compete with those dangled by big-city hospitals in Jackson and Memphis.

My first proposal would incentivize more health professionals to serve and plant roots in these far-flung areas by creating a new loan repayment program for qualifying individuals who agree to serve 5 years in a rural community.

After hospitals hire more staff, they need to retain them, which means that these facilities need to be able to pay their bills.

That’s where my second proposal comes in. It would ensure that rural hospitals receive fair payment for the care they provide by establishing a national standard to the Medicare hospital area wage index.

Currently, the formula used to determine Medicare reimbursements to hospitals provides much lower payouts to health care providers in rural communities.

Unless we level the playing field, rural providers won’t be able to make ends meet, and those hospitals will eventually shutter.

The final portion of my agenda would establish two five-year grant programs to help communities meet urgent care needs by using existing resources.

It would allow underserved areas to increase staffing resources, extend hours of operation, acquire additional technology and equipment, and pay for construction costs.

Addressing these challenges will be difficult, but we have to start somewhere if we want to stop America's rural health crisis in its tracks. In the future, billboards will brag about wait times and care quality, and patients will have one less thing to worry about during an emergency.

Marsha Blackburn is the first woman to represent Tennessee in the United States Senate. She is a member of the Armed Services Committee, the Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee, the Veterans Affairs Committee, and the Judiciary Committee, and serves as the Ranking Member on the Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security Subcommittee. In the 116th Congress, she led the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Tech Task Force, a roundtable-style working group dedicated to the examination of technology’s influence on American culture. Read Sen. Marsha Blackburn's Reports More Here.

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Addressing these challenges will be difficult, but we have to start somewhere if we want to stop America's rural health crisis in its tracks.
jackson, memphis, wait
Saturday, 01 April 2023 09:17 AM
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