McKenzie Regional Hospital is joining the long list of rural hospital closures in Tennessee and nationwide – particularly in the states that did not expand Medicaid under the affordable care act. Small towns become incredibly vulnerable when a rural hospital closes. It becomes increasingly difficult to attract new businesses, which makes it difficult to attract and retain residents, which makes it difficult to have a sustainable tax base that can pay for the infrastructure necessary to function as a municipality.
In its current form, ECHO’s model works best in large cities with dense populations and substantial churches. It’s a little easier to raise money and build a support network in big cities. But I think we have to figure out how to better apply our model in rural areas. Faith-based charitable clinics could be the answer to diverting enough ER traffic (potentially mitigating hospital visits in general) that hospitals aren’t overburdened to the point of closing.
I’m excited about a clinic project we’re working with in Missouri. They have a great project team, which includes a practicing physician ready to translate into charitable care. We’re going to do everything we can to support their effort, and will use the experience to learn and expand our rural capabilities.
In the meantime, if you have any ideas for how ECHO can better support small communities, I’m all ears.