Tennessee rural hospitals pumped $994 million into the state's economy and fueled more than 15,600 jobs, contributing roughly $791 million in payroll, according to the Tennessee Hospital Association's 2017 Rural Impact Report.
Tennessee is home to 61 rural hospitals,15 of which are designated critical access facilities, and in total about 50 percent of the state's acute care hospitals are rurals. The report's figures reflect data from 2015.
The state's rural hospitals, which are often financially challenged, delivered services for 980,808 emergency room visits, delivered 12,224 babies while shouldering as well as $791 million in payroll obligations for their 15,654 employees. All told, the facilities delivered an economic impact of $994 million.
"These employee salaries often are spent within their local communities, which supports other businesses and services in their hometowns. Healthcare in rural areas can represent up to 20 percent of the community's employment and income," the report said.
Rurals provided more than $292 million in uncompensated care in 2015, which included roughly $124 million in unreimbursed services to TennCare patients. TennCare is the state's Medicaid program.
As in other states, rurals hospitals are feeling the strain of those costs and have seen a number of closures, jeopardizing access to care and quality of life for residents in those communities. Since 2014, six rural hospitals have closed in Tennessee, which triggered layoffs, diminished wages, economic loss and negative impact to available healthcare services. Three communities lost the sole local hospital, leaving a dangerous gap in care especially in the event of an emergency.
"If a hospital closes in a rural community, health providers, including physicians, also may decide to relocate. This presents an even greater loss for communities and jeopardizes access to care," the report said.