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It’s been seven years since Cheboygan Memorial Hospital shut its doors, costing hundreds of jobs and jolting rural residents in the northeast Lower Peninsula.
But health care analysts now warn that more than a dozen rural hospitals scattered across Michigan risk the same fate, as fiscal pressures, staff recruitment troubles and dwindling patient numbers push them to the brink.
According to Chicago-based national health care consulting firm Navigant, 18 rural hospitals in Michigan are at high risk of closing – about one-in-four rural hospitals in the state, and ninth highest such percentage in the nation. Analysis by a University of Detroit Mercy healthcare researcher reached similar conclusions, citing more than 20 “at risk” rural hospitals in the state.
David Mosley of Navigant said the price rural communities pay when hospitals close extends far beyond the immediate economic impact and health care jobs that are lost.
He pointed to a University of Kentucky study this year that found rural patients averaged 11 additional minutes in an ambulance in the year after a rural hospital closed. Patients over 64 years old spent 14 additional minutes in an ambulance, doubling their ride time.
“You are an elderly patient with a heart condition. Your 20-minute ambulance trip to the hospital just became a lot longer,” he said.
In Iron Mountain along the Upper Peninsula border with Wisconsin, news on the future of the local hospital, Dickinson County Healthcare System, has been grim. It’s one of those on the Navigant list.
“Chapter 11 bankruptcy could be in the works for DCHS,” read one headline in 2018, as the hospital board considered filing for bankruptcy.
Later that year: “Dickinson County Healthcare System needs nearly $24 million.”